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The Trump administration’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, really kicked the New Cruelty into a higher gear in a White House press briefing Thursday, explaining that sure, there may be a lot of things government does that might give you good feels, but don’t really have any demonstrable results. Useless fripperies like Meals on Wheels, let’s say, or after-school nutrition programs for poor kids. These things don’t make a profit or kill our enemies, so what good are they, really?

The alleged human being even spoke at length about how eliminating funding for such wasteful spending was actually a great act of compassion to U.S. taxpayers, none of whom we actually heard chanting “starve the grannies” at Trump rallies, but who will certainly appreciate the small savings from nutritional programs, to be diverted to tax cuts for the wealthy and a $54 billion defense buildup.

Mulvaney seemed downright offended that NBC’s Peter Alexander would even ask about the wisdom of zeroing out funding for Meals on Wheels, which for one thing is a state-run program that the federal government only pays for, so why even bother bringing it up? But what good is Meals on Wheels anyway if it doesn’t work?

“Meals on Wheels sounds great,” Mulvaney said during the same press conference. But he added, “We’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”

After all, what has Meals on Wheels ever really accomplished to make America great? It hasn’t killed a single terrorist or brought any jobs back from China, or even caught any illegal immigrants. Sure, maybe it serves over 2.4 million seniors annually, and maybe multiple studies have shown the program helps seniors live independently longer, keeping them out of nursing homes, which saves a hell of a lot of money. One study found,

The average cost of a one-month nursing home stay is equivalent to providing home-delivered meals five days a week for approximately seven years [.]

Also on the cost-containment front, a 2013 study by researchers at Brown University found that in most states, increasing Meals on Wheels enrollment would result in a net savings from decreased Medicaid costs for nursing home care.

Now, sure, that may look like “results,” but the truth must be acknowledged: old people served by Meals On Wheels may have better nutrition, fewer falls, and fewer hospitalizations, but they have not raised the millions of dollars for the GOP that other interests have, so they’re a drag on the budget. As for the savings to Medicaid from keeping them out of nursing homes, that point may be moot anyway, since we’re cutting and block-granting Medicaid too. And don’t even get the Trumpers started on wussy stuff about how often the Meals on Wheels volunteer is a welcome daily contact and safety check for the old people using the service — that’s not a measurable result, even. As Mulvaney says, we can’t just

take that federal money and give it to the states and say, ‘Look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work’ — I can’t defend that anymore.

Our Twilight Zone ironic punishment for Mick Mulvaney: He is trapped inside the body of an old woman who has fallen out of bed, but isn’t terribly worried because she knows the Meals on Wheels driver will be along any moment now. Except the budget’s been eliminated, so there’s not going to be a Meals on Wheels Driver, forever.

And then there are the after-school programs that need to be cut, again, because they seem nice but just aren’t working. Said Mulvaney,

They’re supposed to be educational programs, right? I mean, that’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school […] Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better in school… the way we justified it was, these programs are going to help these kids do better in school and get better jobs. And we can’t prove that that’s happening.

If the test scores aren’t coming up immediately, then obviously the programs aren’t working, and we need to spend the money on a sexy new F-35 fighter jet. Now, Mulvaney isn’t entirely sure which programs are going to get cut, but he does know they’re mostly not working, while hunger can be a real motivator. Haven’t you ever read any Horatio Alger? Neither has Donald Trump, but he hears Horatio Alger is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more. Now, if you want to get all nitpicky, as Tom Philpott at Mother Jones does, there’s plenty of evidence that hunger is not good for doing well in school or getting better jobs:

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hunger takes a toll on student achievement, and alleviating it helps.

■ Lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or dairy products, is associated with lower grades among students.
■ Deficits of specific nutrients (i.e., vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, iron, zinc, and calcium) are associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness among students.
■ Hunger due to insufficient food intake is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repeating a grade, and an inability to focus among students.

Beyond that, as smartass educator Brittany Packnett pointed out, there’s a plot twist: There’s actually plenty of evidence after-school programs help kids achieve. On a U.S. Government website, no less:

OK, fine, but that’s not “evidence” the way a bomb damage assessment is evidence, so shut it. Besides, if we really want to talk compassion, we need to think not just about the people who take from the government, but also the people the government takes from:

“You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re focusing on recipients of the money. We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place,” Mulvaney told reporters. “And I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore … unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually going to be used in a proper function. And I think that is about as compassionate as you can get.”

And Americans are clear on what compassion means: Compassion means using our hard-earned money to rain death from the sky on ISIS, not wasting money taking a hot meal to grandma. We have no choice. Believe me.

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[Mother Jones / WaPo / Politico / Britanny Packnett on Twitter]

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