It is tempting to see Donald Trump’s “skinny budget”— slapdash, perverse, replete with cuts that are ignorant and cruel—as a mirror of the man himself. This would be a mistake. Although the budget brandishes Trump’s signature inanities—for example, over $1 billion to start building that wall—it thoroughly expresses the values of the Republican congressional majority. Trump’s budget makes plain the cuts that House Speaker Paul Ryan always secreted in magic asterisks (cuts to be named later) in his budgets.
Trump’s plan is driven by the decision to add $54 billion to military spending (above the 2017 baseline) and subtract that sum from domestic programs. Its most wrongheaded assumption is that the Pentagon, which already accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s military spending, needs more money, while diplomacy and international cooperation are simply a waste. In fact, our overstressed military needs fewer wars, which we’ll never escape without far more diplomacy, international cooperation, and institution-building.
The budget also fails to comprehend the vital role of public investment in an advanced economy. In its scorn for science, medical research, renewable energy, and education and training, it lays waste to the seed corn of our economic future. Climate-change denial has become a Republican article of faith, so Trump’s budget ensures, as Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney puts it, that “we’re not spending money on that anymore.” Funding for science and research in general is slashed, and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities are abolished. Education and training programs—preschool and after-school, work study and grant support to help low-income families pay for college, job training for workers, teacher training, and more—are all savaged. Spending on sorely needed infrastructure is cut as well, from a 13 percent reduction in the Department of Transportation to the elimination of the Department of Agriculture’s Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program.
Trump’s budget is cruelest in decimating programs for the most vulnerable—infant nutrition, day care for low-income families, public housing and rent support, Meals on Wheels, even home-heating aid to keep the impoverished and disabled from freezing in the winter. And in a betrayal of those who helped put Trump in office, rural economic-development programs—the Appalachian Regional Council, the Delta Regional Authority, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative—are zeroed out. Support for rural airports and radio stations is eliminated, ensuring that this will literally be flyover country.
Trump also gives the back of his hand to people in our inner cities, eliminating the community-development block grant, job training, and legal aid from his budget. Programs to help middle- and high-school students prepare for college are hammered, and so are after-school and summer-enrichment programs. The assault on public education is escalated, with money going to subsidize charter schools and private-school vouchers, and with $1 billion repurposed to bribe school districts into allowing money to follow children into the public school of their choice, a first step to further expanding vouchers. Trump also makes a mockery of his claim that Republicans are the party of working people with a budget that eviscerates support for enforcing health-and-safety regulations in factories and mines, minimum-wage and workers’-rights provisions, and protections against wage theft.
This “skinny budget” covers only one year of discretionary spending—less than one-third of the budget—and omits mandatory programs like Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the national debt. Those omissions hide the coming train wreck. Trump has promised a “historic” military buildup, a $1 trillion infrastructure program, and “massive” tax cuts, while protecting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, and balancing the budget in 10 years.
As his first two months in office have amply revealed, Trump has no intention of keeping these contradictory promises—nor could he. Instead, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations have taken priority. Trumpcare offers top-end tax cuts at the cost of violating his pledge to protect Medicaid and denying millions of their health insurance. This year’s military buildup is “paid for” by slashing domestic spending. Mandatory programs like food stamps and Pell Grants are likely to face deep cuts, but these won’t be enough. The infrastructure pledge is likely to be whittled down to tax credits for developers. Even so, Trump will either run up massive deficits like Ronald Reagan did, or he’ll embrace Ryan’s desire to cut Social Security and Medicare.
The good news is that Trump’s “skinny budget” is dead on arrival. GOP legislators will refashion it, and they’ll need Democratic votes to get out from under the budget ceilings written into current law. But the political thrust of this budget—perverse, ignorant, duplicitous, and cruel—will drive the congressional debate. And the furious effort to block its worst elements won’t begin to address the real needs of our country.