With the release of the president’s latest budget request on Monday, it would be fair to expect a rash of tough, analytical coverage examining how affordable the president’s proposals are.
Take any strong progressive proposal – like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, or free college tuition — and the constant refrain from critics is a question about how we could possibly pay for it. And as the presidential election comes into full swing, this question is asked with increasing frequency.
Yet in the wake of the Trump budget released on Monday — which dedicates $4.8 trillion in federal spending, makes the 2017 tax cuts permanent and guns Pentagon spending — only the most die-hard deficit hawks are raising the question: How will Trump pay for it?
The affordability question with its veneer of responsibility has become a convenient argument against progressive change. But some progressive proposals are more affordable than their conservative corollaries, or the status quo. Here are three examples of unaffordable proposals from the Trump budget.
Trump’s Budget Extends His 2017 Tax Cuts
The president’s budget proposes extending the 2017 tax cuts for individuals past their scheduled expiration in 2025, at a cost of about $1.4 trillion, despite evidence that most of the law’s benefits go to the richest 20 percent of Americans.
The corporate tax cuts under the 2017 law are already permanent, unless Congress acts to change them. In the first year of the Trump tax law, profitable corporations paid an average tax rate of just 11.3 percent.
None of this is remotely affordable, but there are plenty of tax proposals beyond simply repealing the Trump tax cuts that are. From an “ultra-millionaires tax” on wealth to taxing investments at the same rate as income from work, there are plenty of serious proposals for raising revenue that have the side benefit of addressing rampant economic inequality.
The New Budget Raids Domestic Programs to Pay for the Pentagon
Spending on the military is now higher than it was at the peak of the Vietnam war, and the Trump budget proposes ever-higher spending, paired with deep cuts to domestic programs.
Under the president’s budget proposal, Pentagon spending would go from 53 percent to 62 percent of the discretionary budget by 2030 (that’s the roughly $1 trillion that Congress allocates each year for everything from public education to public housing, medical research, veterans’ benefits and the military, and more). Spending on programs that fight poverty, protect the environment or advance public health would all decline accordingly.
To make matters worse, the Pentagon budget has long been a trough for the profit-hungry corporations that now account for fully half of the annual budget of the Department of Defense. Enriching Pentagon contractors to the tune of more than $300 billion every year is not remotely affordable.
The Trump proposal continues the contractor free-for-all while also making deep cuts to foreign aid and diplomacy — a recipe for new and ongoing wars that the United States most definitely cannot afford.
A proposal I put together for the Institute for Policy Studies calls for cutting $350 billion each year from the Pentagon as part of a plan to make the U.S. safer. Similar proposals from groups like People Over Pentagon and the Sustainable Defense Task Force suggest varying formulas that all achieve greater security through spending less on the military — and clear the way to reinvest the savings in progressive domestic programs.
Trump’s Budget Doubles Down on Cruel and Costly Immigration Policies
The president’s proposals around immigration, and specifically his calls to build a wall at the southern border, have caused the most controversy, including the country’s longest-ever government shutdown. President Trump’s policies on immigration — including the border wall, family separation, family detention, and a growing and more aggressive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — are morally appalling, but they’re also simply unaffordable.
There’s the matter of the spending itself: the president’s proposal includes $18.9 billion for Customs and Border Protection, and an additional $10.4 billion for ICE. Those both represent major increases — 10 percent and 24 percent, respectively — over the 2020 budget for those agencies.
In terms of affordability, the missed opportunity this represents is even more significant. A proposal for comprehensive immigration reform that included a pathway to citizenship was estimated to save the federal government $197 billion over 10 years, thanks to increased taxes that would be paid by immigrants.
If progressives are going to be forced time and time again to answer questions about the affordability of their proposals, it’s time to put those same questions to conservatives, starting with President Trump’s budget proposal. There are clear cases where the progressive agenda becomes far more affordable — in both human and economic terms — than the conservative Trump agenda. Uncovering that truth is one key to making the progressive agenda a reality.
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