By Robert Tracinski
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Hey, everybody, the Trump budget guts everything!
Except, of course, that it doesn’t. It cuts about $54 billion from next year’s budget out of a total of $4 trillion in spending—a reduction of a little over 1 percent. It’s kind of a drop in the bucket.
But as part of their program to grow all spending for everything all the time, Democrats have had to find something that makes Trump’s budget cuts look totally radical and draconian, so they have seized on Meals on Wheels, a program that uses volunteers to deliver food to the elderly.
Not only is this factually wrong, but the really radical and dangerous position is the idea that programs like Meals on Wheels have to be part of the federal budget and must never be cut in any way.
First, the facts. Meals on Wheels is supported by volunteers and overwhelmingly funded by private charity. The national organization Meals on Wheels America gets only 3.3 percent of its budget, less than $250,000, from government grants.
Moreover, the money that is supposedly going to be cut doesn’t even come directly from the federal budget, and Trump’s budget doesn’t even mention Meals on Wheels. Instead, it eliminates Community Development Block Grants, some tiny fraction of which—nobody can say for sure exactly how much—is used by state and local governments to support local Meals on Wheels organizations. Apparently, nothing else done with these block grants is particularly defensible, so Democrats have focused all of their attention on Meals on Wheels.
In the meantime, all of the press attention has led to a surge of donations and volunteers. Did you know citizens could do that—take what they think is a worthy program and support it with their own time and money? Apparently, this is a surprise to everyone on the Left.
So the whole “Trump wants to cut Meals on Wheels” story line smacks of—what’s the phrase I’m looking for here?—oh yes, “fake news.”
Yet here’s why it’s important. The outrage over cutting Meals on Wheels from the federal budget implies that it ought to be part of the federal budget and that it ought to be getting more money. That’s the really radical idea here, and it explains why this country is in the deadly budget predicament we are.
Notice that the supposedly devastating Trump budget proposal says nothing about the largest and fastest-growing part of the budget, the big middle-class entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. If we have to fund Meals on Wheels, we definitely can’t make even the slightest changes to any of those programs. In fact, by this reasoning—if a small fraction of indirect support for a charitable venture is sacrosanct—then the assumption here is that anything good has to be funded by the federal government.
By that reasoning, we aren’t just forced to keep spending money for things the government already does. We will have to keep increasing our spending indefinitely, bring into the federal fold more and more programs and ventures. Anything that benefits anybody has to get government money. Not to support it would be monstrous.
If we can’t even say to any program, “You know that last 3 percent of your budget? We think you’ll be okay on that without the federal government,” then the result is going to be exactly what we have seen: vast, ever-increasing, unsustainable increases in government spending and government debt.
Do you know what happens if we carry this all the way to the end of the road? Take a look at Venezuela, which specifically focused its socialist programs on food banks for the poor, with government taking on an increasingly dominant role in the nation’s food supply. The result? People are starving and reduced to rummaging through trash bins to survive. But no matter how cruel that system ends up being in practice, nobody could ever advocate rolling it back, because that would make you reactionary and cruel and heartless and prove that you hate the poor.
The idea that the government must fund everything, that nothing can happen without it, that it must be the source and impetus behind every initiative, and that it must always expand relentlessly—that is the truly radical notion being pushed in this Meals on Wheels hysteria.
That’s why we have to take an axe to federal funds for Meals on Wheels. We have to do it just to establish that there is some limit, any limit to the scope and fiscal appetite of the federal government—before it yawns its throat open and swallows us whole.