- - Tuesday, March 21, 2017


I started out in journalism in a quaint little place called Prince William County, Virginia. Back then, the late 1980s, the small county was a bedroom community for Washington. Now PWC has nearly a half-million residents and has helped pushed Virginia into the Democrats’ column, but back then there were fewer than 200,000 residents and the state was solidly red.

The county was the proving grounds for some very good reporters. John Harris, a co-founder of Politico, started out there for The Washington Post. Pierre Thomas, now the senior justice correspondent at ABC News, was once a court reporter there. And Laurie Kellman, who covers Congress for The Associated Press, also once worked the phones and government hallways there.

There were the odd international stories from time to time. Who can forget Lorena Bobbitt, who famously cut off the penis of her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt (they actually found it and sewed it back on; I heard from a top cop the search dog nearly wolfed it down)? There was a pastor at a Catholic church who had stigmata, marks that mirror the wounds of Christ on the cross. And there were weeping statues of Jesus, too!

When I arrived, the county had just landed the Potomac Mills Mall, which elected government officials pledged was going to put the county permanently in the black (it didn’t). Those same officials approved town house development after town house development searching for a big tax base (and nearly every year since, it has had one of the highest tax rates in the state).

I covered everything there: First, I wrote obituaries, like any cub reporter. Then I covered cops and courts, moving on to the zoning department, then town councils, then the county board of supervisors — the big plum in local newspapers. Of course, no small-town reporter ever gets out of covering the county fair, so I did that year after year too, often getting saddled with the Most Beautiful Baby contest.

But back to the county board of supervisors. Like all governments, there was an annual budget, and its debut caused ripples each year among the politically active in the county. The budget was always bigger, bigger, bigger (sometimes by 15 percent to 20 percent), and taxes always had to go up, up, up.

For a few years, though, the county sought to tighten its belt. Some lean budgets rolled in, calling for small cuts to county departments. Now average folks have to keep a tight rein on their budgets too. And here’s how it’s done (for those playing along at home): You list out all the things you spend money on, rank them in importance, then cut the very least important things until you balance the books.

But not ol’ PWC. Every year agencies would put their most poignant programs on the chopping block — first. The agencies would claim they had to cut, say, all money for help to handicapped children — and actually bus them in to the county offices during the budget hearings. Schools would say they simply had to do away with after-school sports — rather than the dozens of pointless administrators — and angry parents would flood the county headquarters demanding a budget increase.

I thought it was just a bush-league, politically naive move in a bumpkin rural county — until I got into national politics. Politics is all the same, no matter the playing field, I found out. And there was a prime example of that just last week when President Trump dropped his federal budget blueprint.

The media (mainstream, that is) reported that Mr. Trump’s plan would kill Meals on Wheels, the program that provides the elderly with food if they need it. Now, that’s just terrible, of course. But it wasn’t — and isn’t — true, not in the least.

Mr. Trump’s proposal would kill the Community Development Block Grant, a federal program rife with waste and excess. “The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results,” says the proposal. Often the money didn’t even get to the intended targets.

What’s more, just 3 percent of the cash for Meals on Wheels comes from the federal government. Ninety-seven percent of the program’s money comes from elsewhere, so doing away with the CDBG would have a negligible effect at best.

But like their junior colleagues in county government, top national lawmakers packed their buses full of old folks and shuttled them into town, descending on the Capitol to decry the heartless bastards who dare to suggest a single cut to the bloated budget. The MSM, as it is wont to do, just toed the line. Time.com shouted in a headline: “Trump’s Budget Would Kill Funds for a Program That Feeds 2.4 Million Senior Citizens.”

Just as in municipal governments, the elected national officials think their citizens are stupid. But couldn’t the agency that oversees Meals on Wheels simply cut dozens of other things to protect the most vulnerable, poor elderly people — maybe put that important program off limits? Apparently, they think we don’t know they can — and should.

But the whole game, played at every level of the government, once again proves that all politics are local — and usually stupid.

• Joseph Curl has covered politics for 25 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent at The Washington Times. He also ran the Drudge Report as morning editor for four years. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter via @josephcurl.

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