The budget request President Trump released on Monday represents a conservative vision taken to the extreme. It would shoot military spending skyward while dismantling domestic programs piece by piece, with few exceptions.
The budget peels back many of the promises the president made either on the campaign trail or in tweets. For instance, the president has stated an intention to pull back from military interventions in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere — but his budget insists on an even bigger military budget. And the cash flow to the Pentagon, combined with ongoing tax cuts for the rich, puts the lie to the idea that Republicans care about deficits and balanced budgets.
The budget calls for $750 billion in military spending, a nearly 5 percent increase over 2019 spending. And it calls for a 9 percent cut in all other discretionary spending, which covers nearly everything else — including priorities like education, affordable housing, environmental protection, scientific and medical research, public health, and diplomacy, among others — taking it from $597 billion in 2019 to $543 billion in 2020. The proposal also calls for additional cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
At a time when progressives are clamoring for major new investments like a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and free college, and an end to wars, the Trump budget represents the polar opposite of each of those.
Dismantling Government (But Not the Pentagon)
As in his past budgets, the president has proposed cutting budgets for nearly every government agency except the Pentagon, Homeland Security and Veterans’ Affairs, with few exceptions.
Under the president’s plan, the cuts just keep on coming: the Department of Education would take a 12 percent cut; the Department of Energy would take an 11 percent cut; Health and Human Services would be cut by 12 percent; Agriculture by 15 percent; Transportation by 22 percent and the State Department, a whopping 23 percent.
Within each of those departments are even deeper cuts to a select few agencies and programs. For example, the budget calls for a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, a long-running target for this administration, and a 31 percent cut to the Corps of Engineers, which prevents and addresses flood damage, among other functions.
The cuts also hit programs that Trump had promised not to touch. The proposal cuts Medicare by $846 billion over 10 years. It cuts Medicaid by nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years and replaces the lost funds with a $1.2 trillion “market-based” health care plan.
$8.6 Billion More for the Border Wall
While presidents frequently justify their proposed cuts to domestic and safety net programs by citing the deficit and fiscal responsibility, administration sources say Trump’s proposed budget manages to find $8.6 billion in new funds to build a border wall in addition to the funds the president has attempted to seize through an emergency declaration. That $8.6 billion includes $5 billion from the Department of Homeland Security, with the rest reportedly coming from the military budget. On top of the new $8.6 billion, the president will reportedly ask Congress to repay the Pentagon for an additional $3.6 billion in military construction funds that he has tried to repurpose for building a wall.
With immigration still one of the president’s top priorities, the budget proposes hiring more border agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel, including $314 million to hire 1,000 new ICE agents. It also includes funds to increase the detention capacity for both individuals and families.
A 5 Percent Increase for the Pentagon
With $750 billion in requested funds, the Pentagon would see an increase of more than $33 billion, or nearly 5 percent, over 2019 levels, with the military budget reaching $817 billion by 2029.
One of the most confounding proposals in this budget is for a new, sixth military force straight out of a sci-fi movie. Like President Ronald Reagan before him, President Trump has become enamored of the idea of taking war to space. The president has again proposed the addition of a “Space Force,” touting the creation of a new military branch “for the first time in 70 years,” without providing a clear rationale for why the country needs such a force.
The budget justifies the gargantuan level of spending partly to rebuild military “readiness,” which it notes has degraded after “more than 17 years of warfighting.” No mention is made of ending those wars, despite the president’s recent promises.
One of the most cynical cruelties in this budget (and there are many) is the reliance on an obscure fund known as Overseas Contingency Operations to pump up Pentagon spending. Established 18 years ago to fund the war in Afghanistan, the fund has one special trait: It does not count toward the budget spending caps Congress put in place in 2011 and which take effect again this year if Congress does not act.
That means that the administration can claim to follow the budget caps for both military and non-military spending, while stashing extra funds for the Pentagon in the not-so-secret slush fund. And that’s exactly what it did: the $750 billion for the Pentagon includes $174 billion that doesn’t count toward the spending caps.
The administration wants to have its cake and eat it too: claim fiscal responsibility while pumping up Pentagon spending with the sky as the limit.
The Deficit Lie
When politicians knock down ambitious progressive proposals for anything from the Green New Deal to Medicare for All, a frequent criticism is that the country can’t afford it: Deficits are too high, and the national debt is out of control.
By raising Pentagon spending to historically high levels through a cheap budgeting gimmick, and by claiming unrealistically high tax revenues thanks to a sustained rate of economic growth that most economists agree is highly unlikely, this administration reveals its complete disregard for any concerns about deficits. There always seems to be enough money for a Space Force, or a border wall, or a failed tax cut that goes mainly to the wealthy.
Budget Won’t Pass — But It’s Still Dangerous
Thanks to Democratic control of the House and the power of the filibuster, the Trump budget won’t become a reality in anything close to its entirety.
But it still presents a danger. It starts negotiations from such an extreme conservative position that, unless Democrats maintain a firmly progressive stance, we could end up with a budget that is still very conservative in the end. In past budget negotiations, Democrats have conceded — and sometimes cheered — increased military spending in exchange for more domestic spending. With bold new ideas like the Green New Deal breathing new life into progressive politics, Democrats should prepare to articulate and defend progressive values rather than automatically sliding into major budgetary compromises.
Progressives should demand a budget that reflects progressive values, and those demands should be as bold as the president’s demands.