Washington • In a Republican presidential debate in the fall of 2015, moderator John Harwood of CNBC asked Donald Trump about some of his more outlandish claims, such as making another country pay for a border wall and enacting huge tax cuts that wouldn’t increase the deficit.
“Let’s be honest,” Harwood memorably said. “Is this a comic-book version of a presidential campaign?”
Harwood got a lot of grief for that from Trump and his supporters, but — Great Caesar’s ghost! — would you look at this? President Trump’s comic book came out on Monday, in the form of his budget proposal. It is quite a marvel. In fact, we haven’t seen a comic like this in D.C. in ages.
Remember Trump’s boast that he would “get rid of the $19 trillion in debt … over a period of eight years”?
Odin’s beard! He just hammered that promise to pieces. His budget would add $7 trillion to the debt over a decade — $2 trillion in the next two years alone — and even those numbers are based on the peculiar assumption that the economy will never again go into recession.
Remember Trump’s promise that “I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid” and his boast about being “the first and only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid”?
That promise has gone up, up and away. Trump proposes to cut more than $500 billion together from Medicare — health care for old folks — and Medicaid, which provides health care to the poor.
Remember Trump’s constant “Mexico will pay for the wall” vows?
Cowabunga! His budget made quick work of that promise, requesting 18 billion American dollars for that wall.
And remember just two months ago when the administration said the tax cut would pay for itself and the Treasury Department said it would actually increase tax receipts by $300 billion over 10 years?
Shazam! Quick as a flash, the administration now says tax receipts will be $314 billion lower in 2018, $400 billion lower in 2019 and even $200 billion lower in 2027 when the plan was supposed to be paying for itself.
But the really comic part is the way Trump would offset the big tax cuts for the wealthy and the huge increase for the Pentagon. These range from the villainous — billions of dollars taken from food stamps, college tuition assistance for poor kids and clean-air and clean-water protection — to the absurd — selling off airports and roads and magically saving $139 billion by reducing “improper payments.” Few if any of these will ever happen, so the actual increase in debt will be even greater.
It is, all in all, a superheroic achievement, proving that the government can cut taxes and spend freely on whatever it wants, nobody will ever have to pay for it and nobody will suffer adverse consequences (except those unlucky fools who happen to be old, or poor, or consumers of, say, air and water).
This is a comic-book budget — but not a terribly good one. If the president is going to promise the stars and pay with peanuts, couldn’t he at least make it more interesting? If wild promises and unrealistic offsets are the stuff of a good budget, he could do much better:
All Americans of driving age shall be given a Tesla, and all Americans shall be entitled to elite status in a frequent-flier program of their choosing. The cost of this shall be offset by grounding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for one month.
To improve access to affordable housing, HUD shall subsidize stays at Trump hotel properties at the rack rate. If funds remain unspent after Trump hotels reach capacity, the secretary shall subsidize rounds of golf. The cost of this program will be offset by the elimination of prosecutions at the Justice Department against all who, in the president’s view, are not guilty.
All U.S. citizens shall be given 60-inch ultra-HD TVs. All Americans shall also be granted free subscriptions to Hulu, Netflix and HBO. The cost of this program shall be offset by the sales of organs harvested from those in the lowest quintile of wage earners.
All American families shall be provided with an armed Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile, as well as a launchpad, for the purpose of displaying them on homemade floats in military parades across the country. The cost of this program will be offset by eliminating the president’s intelligence briefings.
In addition to their obvious merits, these proposals have another thing going for them: They have exactly as much chance of becoming law as the Trump budget.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.