Whose swamp does the president's budget plan drain?

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on the Federal budget, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

I don’t know how many times I have written or said: “A budget is a political document with economic consequences.” But it's worth repeating as we begin the debate over the Trump administration’s first budget proposal, in which his political philosophy on what the federal government should or should not do clearly dominates.  And not surprisingly, there are lots of winners and losers. 

Given the limited time it had to formulate its plans, the administration released a “skinny” document that discussed only discretionary spending. That is roughly 30 percent of the budget. The mandatory portion of the budget, which includes things such as Medicare and Medicaid plus interest on debt, constitutes most of the budget.

The rationale given for the cuts is that many, if not most, of the reductions come from programs “that are duplicative, unnecessary, unproven, or ineffective.”  That's what the debate will center on – and rightly so.  If you are going to drain the swamp, you have to define what the swamp is. 

So, which programs are the swamp dwellers and which add to society’s well-being? 

The winners are easy: They are only Defense, which is slated for an increase of $54 billion, or 10 percent; Homeland Security, which is in for a 6.8 percent increase; and Veterans Affairs, which gets a 5.9 percent bump. 

Every other major segment of the economy suffers from funding declines.  These range from a minimal 0.2 percent cutback for NASA to devastating reductions for the Environmental Protection Agency (31.4 percent), foreign aid/State Department (28.7 percent), Agriculture (21 percent), and the Labor Department (21 percent). 

There are also program-debilitating double-digit spending declines proposed for the Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Transportation Departments, as well as the Corps of Engineers.  In other words, almost anything not security-related is on the chopping block.

But those are just department aggregates. To determine who the residents of the muck and mire are, you need to see which specific programs are slashed. Here are just some of the individual programs slated for drainage: 

Food- and nutrition-related:

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Meals on Wheels; after-school meals for poor children; U.N. peacekeeping and disaster-relief funds.

Education:

Striving Readers; Teacher Quality Partnership and Impact Aid support payments, teacher training, after-school and summer programs, aid programs to first-generation and low-income students, and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.

Aid to the poor:

Energy-assistance programs and affordable-housing assistance.

Economic Development and infrastructure:

Economic Development Administration grants for struggling communities, Appalachian Regional Commission, funding for rural clean-water initiatives and rural business services, Water and Wastewater loan and grant program, Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Program, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, National Flood Insurance Program, and Amtrak subsidies.

Environmental:

The Clean Power Plan; climate-change prevention programs; and most of the employees at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Apparently, programs directed at education; feeding poor students, the elderly, women, infants, and children; providing financial assistance of one form or another to farmers, rural businesses, and poor communities; cleaning the air and water; providing food to poor foreign children in war-torn areas; providing after-school and summer educational programs; understanding global warming; and collecting taxes and subsidizing arts and humanities programs all are a waste. 

On the other hand, the Trump team seems to believe that building more ships, a wall, and beefing up the Homeland Security Department are efficient ways to run the government.

At least you can say this about the cuts: They treat every region and all segments of the country equally.  If you are poor, a farmer, live in rural or urban areas, breathe the air or drink water, live in houses, are in school, have enough or not enough to eat, are businesses or workers, programs that have been created over the years to help are being drained. 

And that brings us to the likelihood this budget can become law. If there is a political consensus, it's that politicians around the country -- liberals and conservatives; Republicans and Democrats; urban, suburban, or rural; farm belt, industrial belt, or sun belt -- are all trying to make sure their own piece of the pie is protected. 

Maybe most important, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, says he is going to protect the Appalachian Regional Commission, which is so important to Kentucky.  If he does that, how is he going to cut some other senator’s “critical” program? 

In Washington, it’s a swamp as long as it isn’t your swamp.   

jnaroff@phillynews.com