Week seven in the Donald Trump presidency has once again been so jam packed with “news” of both the real and “fake” genres that the media is running in circles to provide coverage of each breaking soundbite.
On Tuesday March 14, MSNBC Host Rachel Maddow sent out a tantalizing tweet, “We have got Trump Tax Returns” in an effort to garner media attention and boost ratings for her program. The tactic ultimately backfired when her goods which were delivered by journalist David Cay Johnston turned out be a tax return from 2005 which revealed that Mr. Trump earned $153 million and paid $38 million in taxes, an effective rate of close to 25% which was far more than the rate paid by former President Barack Obama, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and financier Warren Buffett in recent years.
The week also included several other big “Trump related” stories including that of U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson from Hawaii who on Wednesday, March 15 put a stay against President Trump’s revised travel order which limits entrance of individuals from six predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. During a rally in Nashville, Tennessee Wednesday night, Trump dismissed the actions of Judge Watson and those of the other six states with courts hearing similar arguments as “unprecedented judicial overreach”.
And of course, the other soundbite of the week was that of Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee saying that the Committee “did not have any evidence” that former President Barack Obama had initiated wiretapping of Trump Tower during the presidential campaign as President Trump alleged last week.
Given the plethora of the news stories surrounding President Trump this week, it is hard to believe that the big story of the week is going to turn out to be something as un-sexy as the unveiling of the President’s first budget. The Trump budget which has been described as “the skinny budget” and “the America first budget” applies major cuts to most government department budgets and also completely eliminates nineteen government agencies in an effort to fund a $54 billion increase in defense spending. The $54 billion breaks down as $52.3 billion for the Department of Defense – a 10% increase over current funding, $2.8 billion for the Department of Homeland Security – a 6.8 % increase over current funding with some of the funding increase put aside to build the wall on the southern border, and $4.4 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs – a 5.9% increase.
The department hit the hardest by the budget cuts was the EPA with a 34% cut or $2.6 billion which effectively eliminated 50 programs and over 3,200 jobs. While the EPA budget reduction is significant, it does not come as a tremendous surprise given that President Trump’s choice to lead the EPA, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA over a dozen times. The State Department also faces a steep reduction of 28.7% or $10 billion. State Department budget cuts largely target support to foreign multilateral organizations. The budgets for diplomatic personnel and embassy security were not significantly impacted.
Other losers in the budget process include the Department of Agriculture which faces a 20.7% budget cut or $4.7 billion, the Department of Labor which also has a 20.7% budget cut or 2.5 billion, and the Health and Human Services Budget which has a 16.2% budget cut including a $15.1 billion reduction for the Department of Health and Human Services and a $5.8 billion reduction for the National Institutes of Health. However, there were no cuts to the budgets for Medicare and Medicaid.
The Trump budget also cut the Department of Education budget by 14% or $9.2 billion with the budget cuts directed to a variety of programs including teacher training, after school programs, and college aid to low income students. The Department of Education cuts were coupled with an unprecedented investment of $1.4 billion in school choice initiatives which includes $1 billion to encourage school districts to allow students to use federal funding to attend the school of their choice, $250 million to establish a new private school choice program and $168 million in incremental charter school funding. Again, the Education Department budget priorities should not come as a shock to anyone given that President Trump selected school choice advocate Betsy De Vos to lead the department.
Donald Trump’s first budget is a blueprint of his agenda. He campaigned on improving our national security, solidifying our military capacity and supporting our veterans. Consequently, those departments are the only ones with a net increase in funding. He also promised to increase school choice and that he would not touch Medicare or Medicaid. Once again, “Promises Made, Promises Kept.”
However, as one might expect, the Trump budget is already being described as discriminatory to lower income individuals. For instance, the Washington Post published an article titled “If you’re a Poor Person in America, Trump’s Budget is Not for You”. This article, and others like it, argue that while President Trump campaigned on helping economically disadvantaged individuals, his first budget includes $6 billion in cuts to programs which were developed to help lower income individuals especially those in rural areas. Trump’s budget has come under fire for eliminating Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program which has been in existence since 1974. The budget has also been criticized for eliminating the Energy Department’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance program which provides funding to low income individuals which they can apply to their electricity bills. Trump’s budget also eliminates $715 million in Community Services block grants which fund antipoverty programs. In addition, the budget has received public ire for cutting $971 million in arts funding including the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts and $445 million allocated to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which funds PBS and NPR.
The White House has attempted to deflect the allegations that the Trump budget proposal makes the lives of poor people worse with the argument that the existing federal budget is extremely bloated and filled with redundancies.
Again, we are only at the very beginning of the budget process. As the budget goes through Congress, budget redundancies will be identified and negotiations on line items will be made.
Image: bykst; CC0 Public Domain