Death by 1,000 cuts

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

From Ron­ald Rea­gan’s “wel­fare queen” to this White House’s “Detroit sin­gle mom,” the un­mar­ried mother re­mains a con­stant fas­ci­na­tion to Repub­li­cans wield­ing bud­get-cut­ting scalpels.

Whereas Rea­gan was prop­a­gat­ing a stereo­type of the fraud­u­lent abuser of pub­lic largesse when he pop­u­lar­ized the term in 1976, fram­ing wel­fare pol­icy there­after, Pres­i­dent Trump’s bud­get blue­print pur­port­edly is aimed at help­ing sin­gle moth­ers (in Detroit, for some rea­son) by build­ing a bet­ter mil­i­tary.

If you’re hav­ing trou­ble con­nect­ing the dots, wel­come to the fra­cas.

The bud­get, which in­cludes mas­sive cuts to spend­ing in the arts, sciences (in­clud­ing med­i­cal re­search) and diplo­macy — mostly in the in­ter­est of in­creas­ing mil­i­tary spend­ing by $54 bil­lion and sub­si­diz­ing that blasted wall — was de­signed by ask­ing: Can we ask the sin­gle mother in Detroit to pay for this?

This is how White House bud­get direc­tor Mick Mul­vaney explained the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cal­cu­la­tions on MSNBC’s “Morn­ing Joe.” Ap­par­ently cog­nizant of di­ver­sity’s fealty to both sexes, Mul­vaney also men­tioned coal min­ers (with my apolo­gies to Bar­bara Burns, ground­break­ing fe­male miner).

“One of the ques­tions we asked was, can we re­ally con­tinue to ask a coal miner in West Vir­ginia or a sin­gle mom in Detroit to pay for th­ese pro­grams?” Mul­vaney queried. “The an­swer was no. We can ask them to pay for de­fense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to con­tinue to pay for the Cor­po­ra­tion for Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing.”

Are there re­ally no sin­gle moth­ers in Detroit lis­ten­ing to NPR’s “Fresh Air”? Or whose kids watch “Sesame Street”? Al­though the CPB re­ceives $450 mil­lion an­nu­ally in fed­eral funds, much of that money is dis­trib­uted to lo­cal tele­vi­sion and ra­dio sta­tions and pro­duc­ers. NPR, long an ob­ject of GOP con­tempt, prob­a­bly will be fine thanks to donor sup­port, but not so the lo­cal shows, which often are ed­u­ca­tional or pub­lic-safety-ori­ented.

The ob­jec­tive, Mul­vaney said, is to keep Trump’s cam­paign prom­ises while not in­creas­ing the bud­get deficit. Among those prom­ises: build the wall (delete “I will make Mex­ico pay for that wall”) and beef up na­tional se­cu­rity.

And, of course, the ul­ti­mate goal in whit­tling away pro­grams that serve the poor or pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment is to Make Amer­ica “Great” Again. As Inigo Mon­toya said in “The Princess Bride,” “You keep us­ing that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Be­fore we parse the mean­ing of the word “great,” a few facts: The pro­posed bud­get, which is re­ally just a col­lec­tion of bad ideas or sug­ges­tions, doesn’t stand a chance of con­gres­sional ap­proval as is. To pass the Se­nate, over which Repub­li­cans hold a rel­a­tively slim ma­jor­ity (52 to 48), it would re­quire Demo­cratic sup­port. The blue­print’s strong em­pha­sis on de­fense and se­cu­rity, not­with­stand­ing cuts in air­port polic­ing, at the ex­pense of do­mes­tic pro­grams is a no-go.

Al­though many Repub­li­cans also op­pose some of the more dra­co­nian cuts, oth­ers want yet more de­fense spend­ing. Both Mac Thorn­berry (RTex.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), chair­men of the House and Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tees, re­spec­tively, want $640 bil­lion rather than the measly $603 bil­lion pro­posed.

Given Trump’s com­mit­ment to a mil­i­tary buildup — and the for­merly silent Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son’s re­cent re­marks that mil­i­tary ac­tion may be nec­es­sary to end North Korea’s nu­clear games — in­vest­ing in de­fense might not be a bad gam­ble.

But hope for a can­cer cure might be. The Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health — the na­tion’s premier re­search in­sti­tu­tion — is threat­ened with los­ing about 20 per­cent of its bud­get. And bets on cli­mate-re­lated con­cerns would be long shots. Among many re­lated cuts, the bud­get would elim­i­nate four NASA mis­sions, in­clud­ing the Deep Space Cli­mate Ob­ser­va­tory, which mon­i­tors cli­mate change from its po­si­tion a mil­lion miles from Earth. Col­lect in­for­ma­tion that might sug­gest the need for en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions? LOL.

By tragic co­in­ci­dence, we learned the day be­fore Trump’s bud­get was re­leased that vast por­tions of Aus­tralia’s iconic Great Bar­rier Reef, one of Earth’s largest or­gan­isms, are dead from over­heated sea­wa­ter caused by green­house gases emit­ted via the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els.

But never mind. Great­ness, like beauty, is in the eye of the be­holder — and Trump’s idea of both tends to­ward re­ac­tionary ex­ces­sive­ness un­bur­dened by his­tory’s fu­ture judg­ment. Be­sides, what do NASA mis­sions have to do with coal min­ers or sin­gle moms?

Not one thing, other than a fu­ture for all those fa­ther­less chil­dren in Detroit — and the coal miner’s daugh­ter, who prob­a­bly needs es­sen­tial so­cial ser­vices more than she does that blasted wall.

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