The Washington Post on President Donald Trump's proposed $4.7 trillion budget:

The best that can be said for President Trump's $4.75 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2020 is that it has no chance of becoming law. This is almost always true of presidential budgets, because ultimately Congress does the nitty-gritty work on spending legislation. Even by the standards of previous nonstarter White House blueprints, however, Mr. Trump's effort this year stands out for dishonesty and warped priorities.

First, dishonesty. There is, to be sure, a smidgen of candor in the fact that the plan does not purport to balance the federal budget within the next decade, though it does suggest that balance may be achieved by 2034; so much for the pretense that growth sparked by the 2017 tax cuts will solve the United States' fiscal problem. The budget claims instead that trillion-dollar annual deficits over the next three years will taper off thereafter, such that overall national debt will decline from 78 percent of gross domestic product today to 71 percent in 2029. However, it reaches that modest achievement for fiscal responsibility by projecting 3 percent growth through 2024 and near-3 percent growth thereafter. More realistic forecasts produce an estimated debt of 87 percent of GDP by 2029, according to the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington think tank on fiscal issues.

Second, warped priorities. Such budgetary savings as Mr. Trump does claim to achieve over the next decade come disproportionately from domestic programs, including those targeted at the neediest people in our society. It adds work requirements — difficult to administer and sometimes counterproductive — to key safety-net programs such as Medicaid, housing assistance and food stamps. At a time when evidence of dangerous harm from climate change is mounting, the budget proposes to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, to the tune of a 31 percent cut in its budget next year. Defense comes in for a 5 percent increase, meanwhile, which might indeed be necessary — but which the president would achieve by invoking a special uncapped warfighting account, an obvious gimmick Congress won't countenance.

There's more: cuts to refugee assistance while asking $8.6 billion for a border wall; decreasing scientific research while freezing the maximum Pell Grant for low-income college students. Here and there, the Trump budget proposes valid reforms to expensive programs, such as its suggestion for "site-neutral" Medicare payments (i.e., similar fees for services either performed in a hospital or not), which the Obama administration also backed. But you get the picture. This is a document whose good ideas can't get traction because its bad ones simply swamp them.

The Boston Globe on how aid to Central America would affect U.S. immigration at its border with Mexico:

The sharp rise in the number of unauthorized migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in February seemed to confirm one of President Donald Trump's loudest claims — that the nation faces a full-blown migrant crisis that requires a border wall. More than 76,000 unauthorized migrants crossed the border in February, a 31 percent jump from January.

But what's really happening at the southern border undercuts the president's central claims. Last month, when he declared a national emergency to build a wall, he said "(W)e have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people, and it's unacceptable." Yet the number of people apprehended is still below historical highs, and 40,325 of them are parents and children. And the people entering are overwhelmingly not criminals.

The migrants mostly come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — the area known as the Northern Triangle. They're coming to seek refuge from brutal socioeconomic forces in Central America.

While homicide rates have fallen in El Salvador and Honduras in recent years, they still had the world's highest and second-highest rates in 2016. Guatemala ranked 10th. In addition to facing the pervasive threat of violence, people in these countries must live under governments that have largely failed to provide fundamental rights and protections for their citizens. There's a high incidence of gender-based violence, extortion by organized crime, and gang recruitment, as well as hate crimes committed against the region's gay and lesbian population. Impunity is commonplace, due to weakened institutions deeply infected by corruption. For instance, about 90 percent of crimes in Guatemala go unpunished, with similar rates in Honduras and El Salvador.

Helping those countries grow economically and providing opportunity and security to their residents would help stem the tide of migrants. But U.S. aid to Central America has hovered between only $500 million and $1 billion in recent years. Trump has tried to slash that funding, but Congress has largely rejected his attempts.

How aid money is spent is also critical. The administration has focused on security, with funds going mostly to rule-of-law efforts and to fight organized crime and drug trafficking. In contrast, the Obama administration had a broader approach. "They recognized that there were other factors driving people to migrate — poverty, high rates of inequality, lack of economic opportunity, and systemic corruption," said Adriana Beltran, director of citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group. "They were also financing programs related to violence prevention, workforce development, anti-corruption initiatives." There's evidence those programs were working.

The flow of individuals from Central America to the United States will continue to rise unless there's a clear shift in the American response to the "crisis at the border." Walls don't dissuade people who are suffering through a humanitarian disaster. Rather, a solution requires political will, and not just from the United States but from the Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Honduran governments.

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News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina, on lawmakers' rhetoric about election fraud:

To recklessly throw around claims of voting fraud is to play a dangerous game that could do lasting harm to our democracy.

Yet politicians from the White House to the local level are indulging in that game more and more. Social media and casual conversation cheer them on.

NPR pointed out a recent high-profile example last week: Asked about the absentee ballot tampering in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District that has prompted a new election, President Donald Trump gave an answer designed to confuse. Saying he condemns "any voter fraud," the president went on to talk not about the improprieties surrounding the thrown-out election of Republican Mark Harris but rather the unsubstantiated claims of "a million fraudulent votes" in California.

Despite such frequently repeated claims of massive problems, the evidence shows that outright voter fraud is rare in this country (so rare that a commission appointed by Trump to investigate fraud in the 2016 election was disbanded). As for what happened in the 9th District, it's remarkable because it is one of the clearest cases of election fraud in recent history. A Bladen County man who worked as a political consultant in Harris' campaign has been charged in connection with the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary election. The charges involve illegally obtaining and altering absentee ballots, and the improprieties benefited a Republican candidate.

What happened in Bladen County is noteworthy also because it doesn't look much like the fears that are usually raised by inflammatory rhetoric about voter fraud: that hordes of illegal immigrants or people using names of dead voters are going to the polls.

Rather than worrying about actual absentee ballot tampering in Bladen County, some Republicans in the North Carolina legislature have been using false and vague charges of voter fraud to try to win support for suppressing minority voters. After the Republican legislators' strict voter ID law was thrown out by the courts, which found that it targeted African-Americans and other minorities, they tried again with an amendment to the state's constitution. That too was thrown out by a judge on the grounds that the legislature is so gerrymandered that its members don't represent the people (GOP legislative leaders have filed an appeal).

As the NPR report noted, politicians often use charges of "fraud" to confuse the issue when what they're really worried about is people whose voting choices they might not like. They are, in short, afraid of democracy.

People in both parties can play the game. Some Democrats use emotionally loaded words such as "purge" to exaggerate such procedures as challenging registrations. The danger in all this is that Americans will begin to have serious doubts about the democratic process and the results of our elections. And if their candidate loses, people might conclude that the election was rigged. Then what happens?

We're already seeing the hard-won gains in voting rights for minorities being eroded because of fears.

The country is deeply divided. We have to contend with Russians and others manipulating social media to make us lose faith in our system.

We don't need our political leaders further whipping up divisions and doubts with reckless and misleading rhetoric.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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