A GOP trapped be­tween its past, fu­ture.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY MATT O’BRIEN matt.obrien@wash­post.com

Pres­i­dent Trump ran as a dif­fer­ent kind of Repub­li­can, but his pre­lim­i­nary bud­get would be right at home where the rest of the party is: the 1980s.

The big pic­ture: a $54 bil­lion, or about 10 per­cent, in­crease in mil­i­tary spend­ing and a cut to the rest of the dis­cre­tionary bud­get by a near equal amount. That in­cludes, among many, many other things, less money for be­fore- and af­ter-school pro­grams, job train­ing, af­ford­able housing, pub­lic tran­sit, sci­en­tific re­search, for­eign aid and, yes, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

The big­ger pic­ture, though, is that this would con­fine non­mil­i­tary spend­ing to an even his­tor­i­cally smaller share of the econ­omy than it’s already set to. In­deed, the left-lean­ing Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­icy Pri­or­i­ties cal­cu­lates that, as a result of the spend­ing lim­its Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans agreed to in their debt-ceil­ing deal, non­de­fense dis­cre­tionary spend­ing will fall to a 56-year low of 3.09 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in 2018. Trump’s cuts would prob­a­bly push that below 3 per­cent.

That joke that the gov­ern­ment is just an in­sur­ance com­pany with an army? This bud­get takes it al­most lit­er­ally. It’s squeez­ing all the non-So­cial Se­cu­rity, non-Medi­care, non-Med­i­caid, non­de­fense parts of the bud­get about as far as they can go. Non­de­fense dis­cre­tionary spend­ing would be 25 per­cent lower in in­fla­tion-ad­justed terms than it was in 2010 if Trump’s bud­get be­comes a re­al­ity.

But you can’t go hunt­ing for so many sav­ings in such a small part of the bud­get with­out some col­lat­eral dam­age. Take the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health. Ev­ery­one — on the right, on the left and in the cen­ter — is in fa­vor of sci­en­tific re­search. And yet, in the past six years, NIH’s in­fla­tion-ad­justed bud­get has de­creased about 6 per­cent. That al­most seems quaint com­pared to the 25 per­cent cut — in ab­so­lute terms — Trump wants this year alone. It’s the same story with the State Depart­ment (to­gether with the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment) and the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, whose fund­ing would be slashed by 28 per­cent and 31 per­cent, re­spec­tively.

It’s re­peal by an­other name. Which is to say that the “de­con­struc­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tive state” that White House chief strate­gist Stephen K. Bannon has talked about doesn’t ac­tu­ally re­quire de­con­struct­ing any­thing. All it re­quires is an un­re­al­is­ti­cally small bud­get.

Not that this is en­tirely in­ten­tional. This is partly the result of politi­cians who want to cut spend­ing but don’t want to cut the big­gest spend­ing pro­grams: So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care. That forces deeper and deeper cuts onto smaller and smaller bud­gets, un­til the gov­ern­ment is hard pressed to per­form some of its most ba­sic func­tions.

The ques­tion, then, is whether Trump will be will­ing to spread some of this fis­cal pain onto en­ti­tle­ments. And the an­swer is: Who knows?

Dur­ing the cam­paign, af­ter all, he promised that “there will be no cuts to So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and Med­i­caid.” But dur­ing the past week, he has en­dorsed a health­care plan that would cut $880 bil­lion from Med­i­caid over the next decade.

That leaves three pos­si­bil­i­ties. Trump could ei­ther go full con­ser­va­tive, full pop­ulist or some mish­mash of the two.

In the first case, he’d match his tea-par­tystyle cuts to non­de­fense dis­cre­tionary spend­ing with ap­proved en­ti­tle­ment re­form ap­proved by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). The re­tire­ment age would be raised, ben­e­fits would grow at a slower rate and, when it comes to Medi­care, the gov­ern­ment’s guar­an­tee of health care would be turned into a voucher for it.

In the sec­ond, Trump would em­brace his in­ner Dick Cheney and de­cide that deficits don’t mat­ter. He’d not only leave en­ti­tle­ments un­touched, but he’d also undo all the cuts he made — or at least the ones that hurt his vot­ers.

And in the last one, he’d keep try­ing to mix the big-gov­ern­ment-for-me-but-not­for-thee con­ser­vatism that the party’s base loves with the small gov­ern­ment con­ser­vatism that its ac­tivists do, no mat­ter how in­co­her­ent that might be in prac­tice.

The only prob­lem is that th­ese things don’t mix. You can’t be a her­ren­volk party de­voted to the idea that the wel­fare state must be pro­tected for peo­ple born in the right place and of the right hue, and a Hayekian one whose an­i­mat­ing prin­ci­ple is that the wel­fare state must be shrunk un­til it’s small enough to be drowned in a bath­tub.

To be fair, th­ese ide­o­log­i­cal fis­sures pre­ceded Trump, and, if the first few months of his ad­min­is­tra­tion are any guide, they won’t end with him. In­stead, he’ll try to ap­pease one group af­ter an­other, bounc­ing back and forth be­tween the GOP’s past and its fu­ture.

For to­day, at least, that’s still some­thing Ron­ald Rea­gan might rec­og­nize.

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