President Donald Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney is a Tea Party Republican and a former member of both the far-right House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee. Together these two groups comprise the majority of Republicans in the U.S. House. During President Obama’s tenure they were the radical deficit hawks that refused to vote for debt limit increases unless the administration agreed to their spending cut demands. In other words, they voted for catastrophic defaults on the nation’s debt.
With Mulvaney on the job I was expecting a lean Trump budget. So it was no surprise that the fiscal year 2018 Budget Blueprint for discretionary spending that Trump released March 16 proposed drastic cuts in all federal spending except for defense, homeland security and veteran’s affairs. Mulvaney claims that it simply mirrors what Trump promised the voters.
But discretionary spending is only about 30 percent of the federal budget. The big bucks are in the mandatory spending programs in Trump’s full budget for FYs 2018-2026 that is to be released in May. If the full budget doesn’t include reductions in spending for Medicare and Social Security I will just be surprised; the Freedom Caucus and most Republicans in Congress will be outraged.
Still there is much more to be done with federal budgeting in the next few months as I have mentioned in earlier blogs. By the end of April Congress must pass legislation that will keep the government running through the end of FY 2017 and a concurrent resolution on the budget for FYs 2018-2027.
The debt limit extension negotiated by then-Speaker John Boehner in 2015 expired on March 15, 2017. So on March 16 U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stopped borrowing to fund the government and urged Congress to increase the statutory debt limit as soon as possible. He also implemented “extraordinary measures” that usually provide enough cash to fund the government for several months without borrowing.
Typically in May Congress begins work on the 12 discretionary spending appropriations bills for the following fiscal year. It seems likely that Trump’s Blueprint was intended to provide guidance for this process. But even some Republicans are not really thrilled with the spending cuts Trump is proposing.
The Blueprint’s 28 percent reduction in the State Department budget and the 31 percent reduction in the Environmental Protection Agency budget have been well publicized as being drastic and dangerous to national security and the environment. But Trump’s budget cuts to other departments would be quite damaging too. The Departments of Labor — Health and Human Services – Agriculture – Commerce – Education – Transportation — Housing and Urban Development and Interior would all suffer budget cuts from 12 to 21 percent. I think cuts to education would hurt the most.
And Trump wants to totally eliminate funding for 19 independent agencies, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Appalachian Regional Commission. Even if Trump voters in West Virginia and Kentucky don’t care that much about the arts and humanities, they will suffer from the elimination of the Appalachian Commission that helps create jobs in their anemic economies.
Trump’s anti-science Blueprint would reduce the National Institutes for Health budget by 18 percent. And it suggests that some functions of the all-important Centers for Disease Control would be block granted to the states. It also reduces federal grants that support job training and shifts responsibility for funding these services to states, localities and employers.
Along with decimating the federal government, a key objective of the Blueprint is to wipe out most if not all funding to combat climate change. This will likely mean that the Department of Defense would be prohibited from using its funds to predict how climate change might affect national security. Other departments could be prohibited from gathering scientific data on climate change. And federal support for clean energy projects that create thousands of jobs would be eliminated.
Government funding for research contributes significantly to a stronger U.S. economy. America won’t be made great again by weakening its leading position in science and technology.
Trump’s Blueprint emphasizes military might over diplomacy. It provides an extra $54 billion for defense while cutting foreign aid and other international programs designed to prevent the spread of the Islamic State. It also cuts funding for the United Nations, the organization that helps prevent regional problems from becoming global problems.
Polls indicate that the majority of Americans support climate change initiatives, regulations to protect the environment, better education for their children and protection of our public lands. Even the much maligned Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare is getting much stronger support these days. But Trump’s policies oppose all of what the majority of we the people want.
There is no doubt in my mind that Trump’s Blueprint cuts many programs that benefit his supporters while weakening national security and damaging the economy. But I am not sure that Trump even knows that. He simply doesn’t understand how government works and doesn’t have the curiosity to learn. Trump has a score card mentality; every executive order, memorandum and bill he signs is a point scored for him whether it is good or bad, helpful or hurtful.
Many voters were angry with the “establishment” last November but I don’t think that means they favor replacing it with policy disasters.