EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
On its release last week, President Trump’s $4.7 trillion 2020 budget was pronounced dead on arrival, and was quickly lost in the cacophony of his presidency. The New York Times suggested it provides a “declaration of Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign priorities.” In fact, its pages include not only the president’s campaign rhetoric but also an accounting of his actual values and priorities that reveal the scope of his betrayal of the working men and women who voted him into office. This is not “A Budget for a Better America,” as its title reads. It is a budget for a bitter betrayal.
The first page of the president’s budget message promises to “protect future generations from Washington’s habitual deficit spending.” But tax cuts for the rich and corporations, not deficits, remain the president’s priority. Even with its laughably rosy economic projections, the budget projects trillion-dollar annual deficits for the next four years, while doubling down on the president’s tax-cut folly, calling for making them permanent.
Yet the deficits do provide the excuse for across-the-board cuts in domestic programs. Here, too, working people, their families, individuals with disabilities, and the most vulnerable of the elderly take the biggest hits. The president, once more, calls for ending the Affordable Care Act, reversing the expansion of Medicaid, and turning the latter into a block grant to states, capped at a level that does not keep up with rising costs.
Trump would also make college less affordable for tens of thousands, and continue to undermine public schools. The Education Department would suffer another 10 percent cut—the third year in a row of cuts. Trump would eliminate after-school programs for low-income students. He would divert taxpayer money into vouchers or tax breaks for private schools. And with student-loan debt now totaling a staggering $1.5 trillion—taken on largely by the sons and daughters of working families who can’t afford soaring college costs—Trump would reduce Pell Grant funding, cut work-study funding, end forbearance for those who work in public service for a decade after college, and eliminate subsidized Stafford loans.
Not surprisingly, with a former coal-industry lobbyist in charge of the agency, Trump’s biggest target is the Environmental Protection Agency, which would face cuts of nearly one-third in the next year alone. Such cuts would ensure that our air and water are more polluted, and more hazardous to our health.
The working poor—the most vulnerable—would find their daily burdens far greater. Food stamps, which help lift more than 4 million kids out of poverty, would be slashed by 30 percent over 10 years. Subsidies for public housing and rental vouchers would be reduced, leaving more people out in the cold, and home-energy assistance would be eliminated, leaving more inside in the cold.
The Labor Department would take another hit, a cut of nearly 10 percent next year. The job corps that helps poor kids get started in the workforce will be slashed. Unemployment insurance would be cut, even though unemployment is likely to grow as the economy slows. And the workers who actually work for Trump—federal employees—receive another kick, in reduced take-home pay and pension cuts.
Even some of the budget’s increases mock those they pretend to help. The National Park Service, with a backlog of $12 billion in repairs for roads and facilities, gets a laughable $300 million. The organization that enforces worker health and safety laws gets an additional $300,000 and supposedly another couple dozen inspectors, but there are only enough inspectors to investigate companies about once every 145 years. The training program to educate workers in high-hazard industries about workplace safety would be eliminated. The administration would quiet the resulting fallout in part by eliminating the Obama-era requirement that large firms report on workplace illnesses.
Trump’s budget message argues that “we must write the next chapter of the great American adventure, turbocharging the industries of the future and establishing a new standard of living for the 21st century.” Yet this budget would essentially concede “the industries of the future” to other countries. Our decrepit infrastructure needs literally trillions in additional funding. Trump claims he’ll add $200 billion to invest in infrastructure over 10 years, but his budget cuts the Army Corps of Engineers by more than 22 percent, the Transportation Department by nearly 20 percent, and the Interior Department by nearly 10 percent.
Investment in research and development for the technologies, inventions, and innovations of the future is slashed. In its first year alone, Trump’s budget would cut funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Science Foundation between 12 and 14 percent each. He would virtually eliminate investment in research or development of renewable energy and energy efficiency. While subsidies for coal and fossil fuels are increased, those for renewable sources are rolled back.
The end of his budget message includes a paragraph on “Supporting Working Families,” which calls on the United States to “lead” in helping families “balance the competing demands of work and family.” To address this, Trump calls for a “one-time” investment of $1 billion in a fund aimed at “stimulating employer investments in child care.” This gesture doesn’t come close to meeting millions of families’ childcare needs, which exceed the cost of college tuition in some 28 states. The administration also claims it “has pledged to provide paid parental leave” to help working parents,” but there is neither a plan nor an appropriation to pay for it.
Trump’s budget statement repeats his standard pledge that his administration is “absolutely committed to putting the needs of the American worker first.” His budget’s numbers, however, mock his words. He continues to posture as the champion of working people, even as inequality gets worse, the public investments vital to our future are starved, the rich make off with the tax cuts, and working people get the shaft. The only question is how long he can get away with this con.