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Trump’s Twisted Spending Priorities

The president's budget proposal shows his priorities lie in shielding the wealthy and maintaining America’s over-sized military.

Research & Commentary
April 27, 2017

by Lindsay Koshgarian

With little warning, the Trump administration released an outline of its tax plan on April 26. Despite its lack of specifics, it’s clear that the plan aims to deliver massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

Lest there be any doubt where the president’s true interests lie, this is a good time to take another look at another signal: his spending proposals. To be sure, there is no indication that Trump’s tax plan would in fact raise enough for his spending proposals (and plenty to indicate the opposite). But like his tax proposals, his spending proposals tell us where his sympathies lie.

White House budget protest, organized by People’s Action, April 25, 2017.

Imagine a federal budget that took stock of the current needs and threats facing our country, and made a good faith effort to use taxpayer money to address those challenges.

Trump’s budget does not do that.

Instead, Trump’s budget cuts nearly everything that keeps our society and economy functioning, including education and job training, and delivers the savings to the military – which is already the world’s largest.

According to the Pew Research Center’s annual poll on public priorities, the top three priorities for Americans at the outset of 2017 were:

  • terrorism (76%),
  • the economy (73%), and
  • education (69%).

Jobs (68%) and health care costs (66%) were close behind.

How would Trump’s budget address Americans’ most pressing concerns?

By many objective measures, the U.S. economy is strong – unemployment is low, stock markets are performing well, and productivity is high. But the big picture masks continuing economic inequality and the fact that too many Americans are struggling to get by.

In perhaps the biggest abdication of his campaign promises to help forgotten Americans, the president’s proposal cuts the labor department by 21 percent ($2.5 billion), including cuts to job training and placement programs for youth and seniors.

Cuts to job training and placement programs add insult to injury. Federal discretionary funds for job training have already declined precipitously over recent decades. In 1975, the U.S. spent seven times more discretionary funds on job training (adjusting for inflation) than it does today.

Trump’s budget also calls for a 5 percent cut to the Small Business Administration and eliminates the Minority Business Development Agency.

Education is consistently in the top three priorities Americans identify – and yet, it is only six percent of the federal discretionary budget. Instead of prioritizing education, the president proposes a nearly 14 percent cut ($9 billion) to federal discretionary education spending, including proposals to eliminate programs for low-income college students, before and after school programs, and others.

This budget also drains resources for two of our most potent tools against terrorism: foreign aid and diplomacy. The proposal calls for a 29 percent ($11 billion) cut to the State Department and foreign aid.

These are tools that work quietly, behind the scenes, yet are seen by experts on both the right and left – 120 top military leaders among them – as indispensable in the fight against terrorism. As Defense Secretary James Mattis has said, “The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”

Foreign aid and the State Department are crucial elements of national security. If military spending alone could defeat terrorism, then a U.S. military budget larger than the next seven countries combined should have already done the trick.

By shifting $54 billion from human needs and development to the military, this budget proposal openly pits militarism against everything other priority we have as a country – including the priorities Americans care most about.

In addition to cuts to diplomacy, foreign aid, job training, and education, the budget also calls for a 16 percent ($13 billion) cut to the Department of Health and Human Services, including a double whammy for both health care and jobs: cuts to training for nursing and other health professions.

Here is what the Trump budget invests in:

  • Shifts $54 billion from domestic programs and international aid to the Pentagon and military —  a 10% budget increase for the Pentagon;
  • Increases Homeland Security funding by 7%; and
  • Increases nuclear weapons funding by 11%.

Here is what the Trump budget cuts:

  • State Department budget (29% cut);
  • Environmental Protection Agency (31% cut);
  • Department of Education (14% cut);
  • Energy (besides nukes, 18% cut);
  • Transportation (13% cut);
  • Small Business Administration (5% cut);
  • Housing & Urban Development (13% cut);
  • Agriculture Department (21% cut); and
  • Health & Human Services (16% cut).

Americans deserve a budget that meets our country’s real needs to strengthen the economy, create jobs, and provide opportunity through education — a budget that also keeps us safe.

Like Trump’s tax plan, his budget shows where his priorities really lie: in shielding the wealthy and maintaining America’s militarized status quo, with the promised job creation nowhere to be found.

Lindsay Koshgarian is the research director at the National Priorities Project.

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