Trump's $1.1tr budget seeks to boost military

Posted March 19, 2017

The White House has strongly defended President Donald Trump's budget, which proposes deep cuts to domestic spending, including programmes aimed at aiding the poor and funding scientific research. But Mr Trump has promised to protect that spending, to cut taxes, and to increase spending on infrastructure, to boot. But the budget also eliminates federal funding for efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. The idea is to "send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration", says budget chief Mick Mulvaney.

Not everything is rosy, of course.

Defense would be the biggest victor, with a $52 billion increase that amounts to more than three times Canada's total military expenditures in 2015.

The budget also would eliminate funding for 19 independent agencies, including the Chemical Safety Board.

Meanwhile, defunding cultural programs - the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc. - will finally get government out of an area where it doesn't belong. This downward trend stopped in 2001 after 9/11, and subsequent USA invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 pushed up defense spending until Obama took office in 2009.

As members of both parties on Capitol Hill quickly pointed out, Congress actually writes the budget, so Mr. Trump's statement is relevant mainly for what it indicates about the executive branch's policy priorities. The Heritage Foundation's Blueprint for Balance budget proposal from February inspired parts of the Trump administration's budget, but also includes proposals to limit the parts of the budget that lie outside the Congressional budget process.

These proposals will be effective only when the Congress passes the budget. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and food and income security benefits account for almost two-thirds of all federal spending.

If we look at USA defense expenditures as a percentage of gross domestic product - a better way to measure a country's spending priorities because it lets us compare big countries and small counties - the number fell steadily during Obama's administration, from 4.66 percent in 2010 to 3.17 percent in 2016.

Trump's so-called "skinny" budget focused only on discretionary spending, so it does not address big-ticket items like Social Security, health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, other "mandatory" spending or interest on the debt, which together comprise at least two-thirds of the federal budget, though the president's first full budget is reportedly expected in May. "In other words, President Trump intends to submit a defense budget that is a mere 3 percent above President Obama's defense budget, which has left our military underfunded, undersized, and unready to confront threats to our national security". In none of the 210 metro areas in the US can school bus drivers afford to live where they work.

Trump's budget isn't much more than a wish list, and Congress has a long fight to fund the government next year.

These cuts, which have been rumored for awhile, seem to fly in the face of Defense Secretary James Mattis' views.