The executive branch of our government has released its proposed budget. Much like Trumpcare, there isn’t a lot to love about it. Popular programs would get completely cut. Our already bloated and inefficient military would receive a huge increase. We’d lose our ability to police polluters and white collar criminals. Honestly, it’s about what I expected. And it’s dead on arrival. But here is where we get to see Trump’s negotiating prowess on display.
Trump campaigned on his negotiating skills. He kept saying things like he could get cheap insurance for all by finding enough savings everywhere in the healthcare system, or could fund massive tax cuts while balancing the budget, or paying for a massive infrastructure program through private dollars. None of these things had ever happened before, so he was saying he could get the best deals we have ever seen. It’s a far fetched but slightly plausible scenario. After all, he did literally (new definition) write a book called, “The Art of the Deal.”
Before we talk about how effective Trump could be, and what he’s trying to do with this budget plan, we should talk a little about negotiating. I’m no expert, but I do understand the basic principals. In short, as long as each party wants something different, you can generally arrive at some situation where everyone is, if not happy, at least satisfied. The problems occur where multiple parties want the same thing. For example, if you want a car, and I want money, we can usually come to some kind of agreement where you give me money and I give you a car. However, if you have to groups, say, Israelis and Palestinians, it’s a lot harder because both groups want the same land. In the example with the car there are a lot of situations where we both walk away satisfied. If one of us is a particularly good negotiator, then some outcomes will be more optimal for one than the other, but we’ll both be more or less ok with it. But in the Israeli/Palestinian example, there is no outcome where people will be happy, or satisfied, or even willing to walk away. Back to Trump.
Let’s assume that Trump is as great a negotiator as he’s been saying. He’s certainly off to a good start. He’s starting with an extreme position to set the bounds of the upcoming deal-making. He’s asked to completely shutdown the National Endowment for the Arts, for example. Maybe someone will come back with the offer to only cut the budget by half. If Trump agrees, he’s still achieved a huge cut, so he’ll feel like a winner, and those trying to keep the NEA will feel like they got a win as well. It’s a good strategy. The problem is going to come when we run into programs that multiple people want different things for. We’re a big country with a lot of points of view. Some things, like the EPA, are extremely polarizing. Conservatives don’t like the government making more and more rules about how businesses can operate. Businesses hate those rules as well. However, the people that live near factories certainly don’t want waste dumped into their drinking water. How do you negotiate that? There is no situation where everyone walks away satisfied. Any regulation cuts into business profits. Any regulation is the government telling businesses how to run things. And no regulation mean that people drink poison.
I don’t know what the final budget will look like. I wouldn’t rule out no budget whatsoever and a complete government shutdown instead. Maybe it will be a massively conservative budget, maybe only a moderately conservative budget. Maybe Trump is a far worse negotiator than he thinks and what passes will be more liberal than Obama could get. But this is the first real test of our negotiator in chief. Get the popcorn.