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Don’t let Trump’s budget proposal distract you from the real spenders

As a political junkie, I get lots of email pleas from politicians and political advocacy groups. Today, I got one from U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Well, not exactly. That’s what the “from” header said, but the message was signed “Team AOC” and delivered via Daily Kos.

What does Team AOC want me to know? That “Donald Trump is robbing the working and middle class to give huge tax breaks to the wealthiest among us.” His latest budget proposal, they say, “is a classic right-wing plan that would gut our most critical social programs.”

I probably dislike Trump’s budget proposal as much as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does, if not more, and not for all the same reasons. It asks Congress for way too much, and way too much of what it asks for is corporate welfare for arms manufacturers in the guise of “defense.”

But Team AOC wants me to do more than dislike it. They want me to take it seriously, so that I donate money to help them “fight” it.

I don’t take it seriously. I dislike it in the same way I like a bad movie or a poorly written novel. It’s fiction, and not particularly entertaining fiction.

As Peter Suderman writes at Reason, “[t]he president’s annual budget proposal has about as much impact on the budget process as the lunch menu in the Rayburn House Office Building cafeteria, possibly less, given that one actually impacts the disposition of sitting members of Congress.”

For nearly a century, under the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the president has been required by law to submit an annual budget request.

And for nearly a century, Congress has felt free to ignore that budget request.

In theory, Trump can ask for anything and everything he might, in his wildest dreams, want.

As a practical matter, since the Democrats control the U.S. House of Representatives, he gets whatever the Democratic Party decides to let him have.

Yes, he can veto what they offer. Yes, the two sides can dig in, triggering a “government shutdown” that’s more dramatic production than true crisis.

But when the smoke clears, the president gets not one thin dime to spend unless Congress appropriates it. That was true when big-spending Republicans controlled Congress during the Obama years, and it’s true now.

Don’t let Congress con you. They, not the president, are responsible for government spending, deficits, and debt.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north-central Florida.

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