Rule number one in government: Never get into a bidding war with Democrats on how much money you want to spend. They have no limit to how much they will spend and will mortgage the future of our children to do so. Trump should heed this lesson as he fights with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over the level of funding to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump’s mistake was even offering another $2.5 billion in emergency funding to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS. Everyone is forgetting that HHS already has a record high discretionary spending budget – over and beyond the high levels of the Obama years. If that is not enough to deal with the coronavirus, then there’s something else wrong here. Yet now that Trump promised more funding, Schumer is demanding $8.5 billion in spending. Why not make it $50 billion?
In fiscal year 2018, Trump promised massive cuts to the bloated HHS. Instead, he signed a bill dramatically increasing spending on the very programs he targeted for cuts. The spending level at HHS for that year wound up being 43 percent higher than Trump’s budget request. The budget for the National Institutes of Health was supposed to be cut by 22 percent and was instead increased by 8.8 percent. The CDC was to be cut by 16.9 percent and was instead increased by 14.4 percent.
In total, the amount of spending on discretionary health programs (not including Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and similar welfare and entitlements) has grown from $56 billion to $73 billion since 2016.
NIH funding for this year is $41.68 billion, an increase of $2.6 billion from FY 2019. That is a total of $11.6 billion in more funding since FY 2016, a 38.6 percent increase. CDC is also at record funding levels.
At what point is enough enough? And if all that increased funding over Obama’s profligate years is not enough to deal with infectious diseases without more emergency funding, then what exactly is the department doing with the base funding?
Aside from the over $700 billion in entitlement spending through the department, HHS gets $105 billion in discretionary funding. Is there really nothing from all their international health programs that could be cut as a way of paying for this?
Trump himself planned on cutting the HHS budget by roughly 10 percent this year. Obviously, there are a lot of places to cut. Why not demand dollar-for-dollar cuts from Democrats?
The problem is that Trump let the cat out of the bag when he said at his press conference that he’ll sign whatever they send him. “With respect to the money that's being negotiated, they can do whatever they want,” said Trump during yesterday’s press briefing on the coronavirus task force. “We're requesting $2.5 [billion]. Some Republicans would like us to get $4 [billion], and some Democrats would like us to get $8.5 [billion], and we'll be satisfied whatever it is.”
This has been the problem from day one. On the one hand, Trump will propose spending cuts, but then he’ll sign spending bills that increase those very programs to record highs, plus sign endless supplemental bills, further increasing spending.
Trump needs to stop relying on congressional Republicans to negotiate for him, because both parties are on the same side when it comes to spending. As Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said, “It seems to me the administration's request is lowballing it, possibly.” He’s never seen an agency whose budget he didn’t want to increase except for that of ICE.
The issue of public health concerns is not about throwing more money at the problem. Like everything else, it’s more of a policy problem. We need to be less politically correct in dealing with outbreaks by shutting off travel from day one. Also, as Senator Josh Hawley is advocating, we need to better retain our own supply chain for vaccinations and stop relying on China and India through outsourcing and foreign labor. China now produces most of the materials that go into vaccine production. So, what do we do when the supply is shut down because the actual virus stems from China? Those issues don’t seem to bother Chuck Schumer.
Throwing another few billion dollars at hundred-billion-dollar departments won’t make us safer. And Trump will never win a bidding war accepting the Democrat premise that the way to solve a public policy crisis is with more money while doubling down on failed policies.