Experts And Media Observers Stunned By Trump’s Budget Proposal

››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

Economic policy experts, advocacy groups, and media outlets scrambled to respond to President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, which includes $54 billion in new defense spending to be offset by dramatic cuts to the entire non-defense discretionary budget. Many observers were quick to point out that the president’s so-called “America First” budget will worsen the suffering of at-risk communities, including many low-income regions that supported his election and are kept afloat economically by federal spending programs.

Trump White House Releases Shocking 2018 Budget Proposal

Wash. Post: Trump’s First Budget Proposal Includes “Massive Cuts” To Non-Defense Programs. According to The Washington Post, President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, which was first previewed ahead of the president’s speech to a joint session of Congress last month, includes a $54 billion increase in defense spending. The proposed increase is offset by “stripping money from more than 18 other agencies” and from many federally funded programs dedicated to education, environmental and labor protections, scientific research, and anti-poverty relief. According to the Post, many of the budget’s proposals “appear to contradict Trump’s agenda” and lofty campaign promises. From the March 16 article:

Trump’s first budget proposal, which he named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Some would be hit particularly hard, with reductions of more than 20 percent at the Agriculture, Labor and State departments and of more than 30 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency.

It would also propose eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated.

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The 53-page budget plan offers the clearest snapshot yet of Trump’s priorities. Yet it is also far shorter and vaguer than White House budget plans normally are. One of the missing details is precisely where and how many jobs would be eliminated across the federal government.

Parts of the budget proposal also appear to contradict Trump’s agenda. Trump has said he wants to eliminate all disease, but the budget chops funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion, or close to 20 percent. He has said he wants to create a $1 trillion infrastructure program, but the proposal would eliminate a Transportation Department program that funds nearly $500 million in road projects. It does not include new funding amounts or a tax mechanism for Trump’s infrastructure program, postponing those decisions. [The Washington Post, 3/16/17; Office of Management and Budget, 3/16/17]

Experts, Journalists Slam Plans To Gut Vital Federal Programs

The Atlantic: Trump’s Budget Cuts Target “A Region That Largely Supported” His Election, “And Which He Has Promised To Revive Economically.” A synopsis of the White House’s budget proposal by The Atlantic’s Elaine Godfrey highlighted how, in its zeal to gut federal program spending, the Trump administration is actually targeting communities that supported the president’s electoral bid, “and which he has promised to revive economically”:

On page five of his blueprint Trump proposes the elimination of funding for 19 independent agencies—those that exist outside of federal departments headed by a Cabinet secretary. One of those agencies is the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership focused on economic development in a region encompassing all of West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Its inclusion is notable, because it serves a region that largely supported Trump, and which he has promised to revive economically.

Another is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, an agency created in 1967 to ensure universal access to television and radio programming. The CPB’s budget relies almost entirely on federal funds and it distributes most of its funding to locally owned public radio and television stations. Trump also proposed defunding the National Endowment for the Arts, an agency supporting projects in arts education, literature, music, and other disciplines. [The Atlantic, 3/16/17]

Bloomberg: Trump’s Proposed Budget “Declares War On ‘War On Poverty’ Programs.” Bloomberg reporters Alan Bjerga and Josh Eidelson noted that the restrictions to social programs contained in the White House’s budget proposal would constitute a “war” on the “War on Poverty” -- a system of social safety net programs first launched by President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. The article pointed out that Trump’s budget is “taking aim at programs entrenched in struggling communities for generations” and quoted Joel Berg of Hunger Free America, who argued that the drastic cuts would “turn a War on Poverty into a war on poor people”:

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal to Congress calls for eliminating social programs dating to President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and would cut spending on assistance to needy counties in Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta as well as hungry schoolchildren in Cambodia.

Grants for rural water projects, funds for local transit systems and a host of regional economic-development commissions would end under the plan being released Thursday. The reductions come as part of an attempted shift in federal spending toward security and defense without adding to the U.S. deficit, Trump said in a statement accompanying the blueprint.

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Some agencies Trump targets for elimination, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, have been Republican targets in the past. And some social spending rises under the proposal: The administration is proposing an additional $500 million to expand efforts to fight addiction to opioids, which is skyrocketing in the U.S. population, and maintains commitments for global AIDS and malaria treatment.

Still, the breadth of cuts is wide, taking aim at programs entrenched in struggling communities for generations.

The Appalachian Regional Commission, focused on creating jobs in a region stretching from northeast Mississippi to southern New York, began in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s so-called War on Poverty, part of his Great Society suite of programs. [Bloomberg, 3/16/17]

CBPP: “Trump Budget Harms Those He Promised To Help.” In response to Trump’s budget proposal, Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) wrote that the plan “would do severe damage to an array of investments that help many of the very people that President Trump has said would be his priority.” Greenstein briefly outlined a few of the areas where Trump’s budget would hit the hardest -- including job training, student aid, basic labor protections, and housing assistance programs for low-income families -- and pointed out that Trump’s plan would exacerbate across-the-board budget restrictions that already damped government spending:

Many of these areas have already borne significant cuts over the past seven years, due to the tight caps that the 2011 Budget Control Act placed on non-defense discretionary program funding plus the sequestration cuts, which have further reduced those caps.

The President’s proposal to reverse sequestration for defense programs, while slashing non-defense programs far below the already-austere sequestration level, turns on its head the bipartisan consensus in place since 2013 that the sequestration cuts are too deep in both defense and non-defense areas. That’s why President Obama and Congress enacted bipartisan agreements that have reduced each year’s sequestration cuts for both defense and non-defense programs in every year from 2013 through 2017. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/16/17]

CRFB: In Attempt To Pay For New Defense Spending, Trump Cuts “From A Shrinking Slice Of The Pie.” In a March 16 response to the White House’s budget proposal, Maya MacGuineas, president of the right-leaning Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), questioned the sustainability of balancing new defense spending with offsets taken from “a shrinking slice of pie” -- non-defense discretionary spending -- and called on the administration to release a full vetting of its long-term tax and spending agenda:

Within this budget, we are pleased that President Trump pays for his 2018 military spending hikes. It is encouraging that the Administration is generally abiding to the principle that if something is worth doing, it is worth paying for. His 2017 increases should be fully paid for as well.

However, all of the cuts come from a shrinking slice of the pie: non-defense discretionary spending, which accounts for only 15% of all federal spending and 5% of projected spending growth over the next ten years. Such aggressive domestic discretionary cuts will be hard to sustain given that this area of the budget has already undergone large cuts and is projected to grow more slowly than inflation. One test of the seriousness of the payfors will be whether the President pushes for his spending cuts as aggressively as he does his new spending.

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It is impossible to see the big picture when you only have a few pieces of the puzzle.  The choices, tradeoffs and fiscal sustainability of the budget will only come into view with a comprehensive fiscal strategy – not with incremental steps or patchwork budgeting.[Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, 3/16/17]

EPI: “It Makes No Sense” For Trump To Slash The Budget Of “The Key Agency That Protects Workers.” Economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) slammed the Trump administration’s plan to institute a 21 percent cut to the budgetary allotment for the Department of Labor:

If you care about U.S. workers it makes no sense to cut a fifth of the budget of the key agency that protects workers from being killed on the job, that protects their pay and benefits, that helps them get retrained after job loss and provides unemployment benefits if they can’t find a job. Working people deserve to work in a safe environment and get paid the wages and overtime they are owed. Without a fully functioning Department of Labor, workers will not have recourse when taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers, and employers who do want to follow the law will not have the assistance they need to comply. Congress should reject the president’s proposal and continue funding the agencies that protect workers on the job. [Economic Policy Institute, 3/16/17]

ThinkProgress: “Much Of The Country … Would Be Devastated” By Trump’s Plan To Cut Spending For HUD. ThinkProgress economic editor Bryce Covert lamented the impact that Trump’s budget would have on at-risk communities currently served by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), arguing that “much of the country,” including the president’s hometown of New York, “would be devastated by these cuts.” Covert included in her article input from community organizers and housing advocates who warned of the impact Trump’s budget would have on distressed families:

“HUD funds an enormous amount of services for vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Katie Goldstein, executive director of housing advocacy organization Tenants & Neighbors. Such a deep cut “really is a homelessness plan for low-income New Yorkers.”

Others agreed. “This is so devastating, I can’t even conceive of it, truthfully,” said Judith Goldiner, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society.

A direct casualty of Trump’s HUD cut, if enacted into law, would be the federal money New York City gets to operate and repair its public housing. And it already doesn’t get the funding it needs to keep things habitable.

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“HUD was created to make sure public housing is safe,” [Community Voices Heard executive director Afua] Atta-Mensah pointed out. But it’s failed to adequately invest in upkeep for years now. “It’s going to be devastating that the Trump administration is tripling down on that policy.” [ThinkProgress, 3/16/17]

Vox: “Trump’s Budget Blueprint Is A War On The Future Of The American Economy.” Vox senior correspondent Matt Yglesias argued that the budget proposal unveiled by the White House represents “a stark declaration of war on the future of the American economy” and blasted the president for failing to “think critically about the actual needs of a 21st-century nation”:

President Donald Trump’s debut budget proposal is a stark declaration of war on the future of the American economy that substitutes a curious mix of ideology and blind nostalgia for any effort to think critically about the actual needs of a 21st-century nation.

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Trump’s budget doesn’t imitate the past; it simply looks backward to it in a way that postwar Americans never would. The government’s manly men — the ones with guns, mostly — get more cash. Programs aimed at effeminate or pointy-headed undertakings like educating children get cut. Not just in obvious places like the Department of Education, either. Little educational programs in departments from State to NASA are getting zapped. Job training is in line for cuts, along with K-12 schooling and college education for the disadvantaged.

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One of the main things that was good about the “good old days” is that they were a time of massive progress, expansion of higher education opportunities into the middle class and rapid development of new products and cures. This happened while the government invested more — not less — on health, education, science, and regional development.

Trump’s budget acknowledges none of that. It slashes funding for medical research, for physical sciences, and for scholarship and culture generally. It cuts deeply into education and training programs it regards (oftentimes wrongly) as ineffective or poorly evaluated. But it only puts a fraction of that money back into other ones it likes better, while crushing science programs that Trump’s own Cabinet was praising earlier this month. [Vox, 3/16/17]

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