President Donald Trump’s first budget is an attempt to reshape the federal government in his own image – crass, bellicose, short-sighted, unserious and ultimately hollow.
Unsurprisingly, Trump titled it “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” The reality is that if Congress were to accept these numbers – which it can’t possibly do – America would be made dumber, dirtier, hungrier and sicker. That may be Trump’s idea of greatness, but it’s certainly not mine.
Would we at least be safer? I doubt it. Trump wants to boost defense spending by $54 billion, or about 9 percent. But at the same time, he proposes cutting funding for the State Department by an incredible 29 percent, slashing the relatively modest hands-across-the-sea assistance and advice the United States gives to other nations. Most of the generals and admirals I know believe in projecting U.S. strength through soft power as well as hard power. Trump apparently disagrees.
As is becoming customary with this administration, the document billed as a budget is really more of a preliminary sketch. Many of the cuts it proposes are transparently designed to play to Trump’s populist constituency rather than save any meaningful amount of money.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, confessed as much. “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was, can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” he said Thursday on MSNBC. “The answer was no. We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
Thus the Trump budget would eliminate $445 million that goes to support public broadcasting. Never mind that the millions who listen to “All Things Considered” while driving home from work include single moms, or that the millions who loved “Downton Abbey” include coal miners. The budget also ends all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All told, ending governmental support for these cultural institutions saves a bit less than a billion dollars – not even a pittance in the context of nearly $4 trillion in government spending. But the point isn’t to save money, it’s to punish the fancy-dancy “elites” who define and consume high culture. (The president’s personal idea of cultural refinement, as we know, includes a Fifth Avenue penthouse that Louis XIV would find a bit gaudy and a six-foot portrait of Donald J. Trump paid for by his charitable foundation.)
I’ve worked in Washington far too long to believe the federal bureaucracy is fat-free. But the proposal to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent can only be seen as a first step toward dismemberment. “The president wants a smaller EPA,” Mulvaney explained. “He thinks they overreach.”
Trump wants to eliminate more than 3,200 EPA jobs, representing more than 20 percent of the workforce. It was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who founded the agency, and it is another Republican president who apparently wants to end the federal government’s role in protecting the environment. It is perhaps no surprise that Trump wants to end EPA programs and regulations aimed at halting global warming, since he has ventured the opinion that climate change is a Chinese hoax; NASA programs to study warming would be cut as well. But the budget also eliminates federal funding for efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. Make America’s Water Dirty Again!
The Energy Department’s Office of Science would see its $5 billion budget cut by nearly 20 percent, while the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would see its $300 million budget zeroed out. The National Institutes of Health would suffer a 19 percent cut, sharply reducing the amount of federal money available for research grants to universities.
There’s barely a peep in Trump’s budget about Medicare or Medicaid. Given the angry reaction to the Republican health care plan, Trump must have decided – for once – that silence was the best choice.
Many of the programs Trump wants to slash or eliminate have support in Congress. The budget could never pass the Senate in this form, and probably not the House. But Trump will get some of what he wants, and consequently the nation will suffer. We get what we pay for – rather, what we elect.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.