WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump presented his first official budget proposal on Tuesday, declaring a dramatic philosophical shift in public spending priorities. Put simply, Trump wants to take $54 billion currently flowing to latterthe poor, scientific research, environmental protection and other programs and hand it over to the military-industrial complex. In the process, some popular federal programs would be completely eliminated.
“These cuts are sensible and rational,” Trump said in a statement accompanying the budget proposal. “Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people.”
Presidential budgets don’t actually create policy. Although they traditionally served as an opening bid for negotiations with Congress, Capitol Hill’s “regular order” budgeting process has been nonfunctional for many years. Trump’s budget should instead be viewed as an ideological statement.
“This is the America First budget,” Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Wednesday. “We wrote it using the president’s own words. We went through his speeches … we wanted to know what his policies were and we turned those policies into numbers.”
Defense contractors. The clearest winner in Trump’s budget are defense contractors and the military, which would receive an additional $54 billion to pay for … pretty much anything. Among several other funding targets, the budget document cites “stocks of critical munitions,” “rebuilding readiness,” a “more lethal joint force” and “additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighters” (the last have proved to be a multitrillion-dollar disaster).
“This increase alone exceeds the entire defense budget of most countries, and would be one of the largest one-year [Defense Department] increases in American history,” the budget document reads.
People who want to chase down and deport immigrants. The budget proposes $314 million to hire 500 new border patrol agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
The Wall. Trump wants to give the Department of Homeland Security an additional $2.6 billion, some of which would be used to “plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border.” The actual wall, of course, would cost much more than $2.6 billion, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Poor people. Trump’s budget eliminates the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps a limited number of poor people pay their heating and cooling bills.
“Compared to other income support programs that serve similar populations, LIHEAP is a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes,” the Trump budget says. The budget would also eliminate the Community Services Block Grant, which partly funds Meals on Wheels programs, for combined savings of $4.2 billion.
Mark Wolfe, the director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, a group that advocates for the heating assistance program on behalf of its local administrators around the country, said the budget’s description was nonsense.
“What they really mean is that they need money to pay for the wall and other administration priorities and LIHEAP and CSBG gets you $4.2 billion of the way there,” Wolfe said in an email. The program helps pay utility bills for 6.1 million poor households annually, he said, adding that 70 percent of those homes include at least one child, senior citizen or disabled person.
“At the end of the day, what is the argument to support freezing grandma?” Wolfe said.
The Obama administration also made a big show of supporting cuts to heating assistance, and Congress actually cut funding significantly at the end of 2011. However, the cut has been offset somewhat by cheaper fuel and warmer winters that have helped reduce heating costs.
Meals on Wheels America, which is mainly funded by donations, noted that its local affiliates get more federal funding from a separate Department of Health and Human Services program that didn’t get mentioned in the budget. The agency’s overall allocation would be cut by 17.9 percent, however.
“So, while we don’t know the exact impact yet, cuts of any kind to these highly successful and leveraged programs would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America, which in turn saves billions of dollars in reduced healthcare expenses,” Ellie Hollander, Meals on Wheels president, said in a statement.
Mulvaney said Thursday that the federal government shouldn’t support Meals on Wheels because the program doesn’t “work” ― contrary to several studies suggesting home-delivered meals help seniors stay out of nursing homes.
“We can’t spend money on programs that cannot show they actually deliver promises to people,” Mulvaney said.
Workers. The Trump spending plan slashes funds for a variety of Labor Department programs pertaining to worker training and safety.
Habitat for Humanity. Trump’s budget saves $35 million by closing the Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing program. This is money that goes to Habitat for Humanity and other charities that build and refurbish houses for poor people. But don’t worry ― according to the budget, nice rich people are already giving poor people all the housing help they need. “This program is duplicative of efforts funded by philanthropy and other more flexible private sector investments,” the document declares.
In a statement, Habitat for Humanity International said it has used $92 million worth of Section 4 funds since 1998 that it paired with $162 million in private donations.
“Federal funding received by Habitat for Humanity supplements and leverages the support of our generous donors,” the organization said. “It never replaces or duplicates it.”
Science. It’s hard to overstate just how devastating this budget would be to the science and biomedical research community.
In addition to massively reducing the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (by 31.5 percent), outright eliminating the NASA satellite program, implementing a $900 million cut to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, ending the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, and slashing $250 million in grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it would also slash funds for the National Institutes of Health by $6 billion. That would put the NIH funding level at a 15-year low and would more than erase the funding that Congress had pledged to devote to the institutes when it passed the 21st Century Cures Act at the tail end of the last Congress.
Benjamin Corb, director of public affairs at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, called the budget “unacceptable.” It would erase “years’ worth of bipartisan support for the NIH, and the American biomedical research enterprise which has long been the global leader for biomedical innovation,” he warned.
Big Bird. The budget would eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS, which airs “Sesame Street.”
People who want to be nurses. Say goodbye to $403 million in training for health professionals and nursing programs.
Artists. The National Endowment for the Arts would be no more, as would the National Endowment for the Humanities, which has funded all sorts of cool stuff, including Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary.
TBD. Social Security and Medicare ― two of the biggest parts of federal spending ― are omitted from the document, as is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an influential liberal think tank, noted that while past administrations have created simplified spending blueprints, Trump’s decision to not even include details on such “mandatory” spending programs is unusual.
“In contrast, while all five previous administrations released initial budgets that displayed information in very different ways, they all provided a more complete picture of how their policies affected total spending, revenues, and deficits (or surpluses), and showed them for several years beyond the budget year,” Richard Kogan said in a blog post on the think tank’s website.
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly promised not to cut Social Security or Medicare. “I can confirm to you that the president’s going to keep the promises he made with regard to those programs,” Mulvaney told reporters.
Trump also repeatedly promised not to cut Medicaid. The health care bill he is currently pushing would slash the program by $880 billion, taking away health insurance for millions of Americans.
This story has been updated to include comment from Habitat for Humanity.
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