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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Kill Big Bird at your own peril

Big Bird plays a big role in the

Big Bird plays a big role in the federal budget proposed last week. Credit: AP / Matt Sayles

President Donald Trump wants to starve Big Bird.

I say go for it. At your own risk.

It’s not that I don’t like America’s famous feathered friend — I do find his voice annoying though — it’s that after 48 years in protective captivity he and his fellow “Sesame Street” characters can make it in the wild. More than make it; they reap huge profits in merchandising agreements every year, well in excess of what it costs to make “Sesame Street” episodes.

Outrage over the Trump proposal will be feverish nonetheless. Ask Mitt Romney. He was the last brave soul to propose funding cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Big Bird stomped on him. When he was done, he ground the 2012 presidential candidate into the pavement with a giant orange heel for good measure. There may still be bits of Romney on the bottom of that shoe.

As Elmo put it at the time, and I quote, “Snap!”

It’s not just the CPB getting cut in Trump’s 2018 budget proposal though. Everyone’s taking a haircut. The $1.1 trillion discretionary spending plan (less than a third of the total federal budget) takes the ax to federal outlays across the board: 21 percent from agriculture; 16 percent from commerce; 14 percent from energy; 31 percent from the Environmental Protection Agency; 13 percent from Housing and Urban Development; 100 percent from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Only Veteran Affairs, Homeland Security and the Defense Department would see increases.

The NEA and NEH cuts may have been Trump saying “Snap!” this time — to actress Meryl Streep and the so-called Hollywood elites who are now predictably predicting the demise of Western culture. (The NEA and NEH each have $148 million annual budgets. “Beauty and the Beast,” the film, may make that this weekend. Hollywood tax anyone?)

The storm is just beginning. Every gored ox has its own PR apparatus. Once the hysteria wave really gets rolling, God help anyone standing in its way. It’s political suicide.

By next week, anyone backing Trump’s budget will be supporting poisoning the food supply; starving senior citizens; putting children and mothers on the street; polluting rivers; choking the air with coal dust; spreading disease; promoting heroin addiction; fostering overseas famine; and, yes, clubbing our beloved Big Bird to death, in spirit if not physically. As if that’s not bad enough, they’ll be doing it to enrich those greedy millionaires and billionaires we love to hate so much.

Is it any wonder Republicans are fleeing Trump’s plan like passengers on the Hindenburg?

This makes light, of course, of genuine concerns. Everyone supports clean water and Meals on Wheels. But at the same time, our federal debt is pushing $20 trillion. In 2015, the federal government spent almost $600 billion more than it took in a $3.8 trillion budget. Six percent of that — $223 billion — went just to servicing debt. Russia’s entire 2016 budget was $236 billion, to give some perspective. Wait until interest rates go up.

The cold, hard truth is that Trump’s proposed budget — preposterously nicknamed the “skinny budget” — doesn’t scratch the enamel on our overspending problem. If he were serious about addressing it, he’d have proposed entitlement reforms, like raising the age to receive Social Security. But even the brash Donald Trump doesn’t have the guts to touch the third rails of U.S. politics: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Not now, anyway.

In the big picture it doesn’t much matter if Trump’s proposed cuts stand or get restored. They’re drops in an ocean of spending. But keep an eye on Big Bird as a bellwether. If he’s still in that taxpayer nest a year hence, we’ve got bigger problems than any of us now think.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.


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