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 super-heroic 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.
In "Hamlet," Shakespeare pens one of the most familiar lines -- and best advice -- ever written. Before Laertes leaves for Paris, his father, Polonius, tells him: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
We have ignored that advice for far too long, which is why the U.S. national debt is $20 trillion with more to come, thanks to the Republican Congress, which has passed a two-year spending bill that calls for $300 billion in new spending and removes caps applied by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
It's being sold to the public with the highest and purist motives. We need to support our brave men and women in uniform and repair our roads and bridges.
As Politico first reported, an audit revealed a Defense Department agency can't account for $800 million targeted for building projects. Worse, if that's possible, the Defense Logistics Agency has no paper trail and can't tell auditors where the money went. And Congress is going to give them more.
As for infrastructure, wasn't the Obama "stimulus," otherwise known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, supposed to have fixed roads and bridges? It was more like a down payment because government never has enough of our money.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), spoke the truth when he held up passage of the budget bill. As reported by The New York Times, Paul said: "I want people to feel uncomfortable. I want them to have to answer people at home who said, 'How come you were against President Obama's deficits, and then how come you're for Republican deficits?'"
Paul was the only Republican senator to vote against the measure, which is expected to increase the debt to $30 trillion over the next decade, when probably all of those in the Senate will be dead or gone and won't have to take responsibility for it.
In addition to providing more money for the military, some Republicans are claiming with a straight face that this massive new spending is needed to finish repeal of Obamacare. No one can seriously believe that, especially with all of the additional pork that is undoubtedly added on to this bill in order to gain "bipartisan" support. So if it's bipartisan, it must be good, right? Spending may be the last bipartisan act in Washington.
President Trump says if there were more Republicans in Congress the new spending and increased debt would not have happened. Maybe.
It's helpful to remind these free-spending Republicans what our founders warned about the dangers of debt.
James Madison said: "Debts and taxes are the known instrument for bringing the many under the domination of the few" and "I go on the principle that a public debt is a public curse."
Thomas Jefferson spoke to the dangers of a government drunk on out-of-control spending that leads to increasing debt: "To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude."
Among the reasons empires and great nations have collapsed is public debt. Seeking to pacify the masses by never saying "no" to anything, politicians mortgage the future while preserving their current careers. Maybe America should change its initials from USA to ATM.
To invoke singer-songwriter Don McLean in a different context and applying it to modern politicians: "They would not listen they're not listening still; perhaps they never will."
With four words, “Hate will never win,” the Nebraska men’s basketball team changed the game.
Rather than preaching division to address the controversy surrounding an avowed white nationalist student on campus, the Huskers shared a message of unity. Their simple phrase rang loud and clear – and, importantly, it did so without diminishing that student’s First Amendment rights.
The 16 Huskers are both black and white. They hail from Nebraska, six other states and three foreign countries. Despite all that could divide them, they shared a statement as one and became the voice for the entire University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.
It began with a coordinated series of tweets last Thursday. Then, the team wore black-and-white warm-up shirts with the four-word phrase before Saturday’s game. The next day, the women’s basketball players donned the same warm-ups. The student section was set to follow suit with the same shirts at Tuesday’s contest.
In unison, they’ve echoed a message that doesn’t spread the hatred expressed by this student: White nationalism has no place on this campus.
To be clear, it has no place anywhere. Emblazoned on Nebraska’s state flag is the state’s motto, which is incompatible and antithetical to the beliefs of white nationalism: “Equality before the law.”
The hateful ideology of white nationalism is one of division. Those who espouse this view want irreparable fractures along racial lines rather than understanding – the best weapon to combat this deluded school of thought, be it rooted in ignorance or malice.
Yet, what’s often lost in this debate is that the self-proclaimed “most active white nationalist in the Nebraska area” has First Amendment rights to free speech and expression – no matter how vile his words are. Until he crosses the line into inciting violence or making threats, he remains protected by the Constitution, as UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green correctly noted last week.
Nothing, however, bars people from using their own First Amendment rights to counter these despicable views. Taking an admirable lead on that was the Husker men’s basketball team.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1927: "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."
The basketball players are using more speech – and better speech – from their position of prominence to remove the spotlight from the repugnant views of the white nationalist. Instead of making this student a martyr and a victim, he’s being made into an afterthought.
His message should go unheard and unheeded. Tolerance and respect will always triumph over cruelty and discrimination.
Indeed, hate will never win.
Considering the upcoming midterm elections, I would like to thank Sen. Deb Fischer for her efforts on behalf of Nebraska’s agriculture community.
Senator Fischer has a long history of working on behalf of ag producers during her tenure in the U.S. Senate. She currently serves on two U.S. Senate committees that oversee many of the policy issues that impact Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers: the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and the Agriculture Committee.
During her time on EPW, Senator Fischer was instrumental in fighting the misguided 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which would have subjected every puddle, ditch and stream to costly and burdensome federal Clean Water Act permitting. Such regulation is best vested with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, which has a variety of regulatory tools at its disposal and already administers our state’s livestock waste statutes.
Sen. Fischer’s new role on Senate Agriculture Committee gives Nebraska’s producers a seat at the table as the next Farm Bill is written.
Many Nebraskans are likely unaware that this comprehensive legislation ensures that farm safety nets are in place to help farmers and ranchers weather a tough ag economy and increasingly tight margins. Without critical programs like crop insurance, drought assistance and livestock indemnity, Nebraska’s $23 billion ag economy would suffer a devastating blow. The consequences would be far reaching and cripple the state’s overall economic health.
Nebraska’s agriculture community greatly appreciates Senator Fischer’s efforts and are proud she represents our state.
Troy Stowater, West Point
Past president, Nebraska Cattlemen