I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the budget the Trump administration recently sent to Congress is more than just a series of items and numbers. It is also a moral statement and an expression of the values of this administration.
This budget (for the 2018 fiscal year) is also inextricably woven into Trump’s definition of the common good, a term of art that refers to what is shared and beneficial for all. Or not.
I would also argue that the budget reflects the posture of this administration toward those who are the least among us. Clearly it does not demonstrate any understanding that there but for the grace of chance and circumstances go we. As well, I would point out that our tortured debate about health care is inextricably connected to how the Republicans frame the idea of the common good.
Regarding the Trump administration’s budget, sent to Congress in mid-March, consider the following:
The Environmental Protection Agency would be cut by more than 30 percent; Health and Human Services, 16 percent; Education, 14 percent; Transportation, 13 percent; Department of the Interior, 12 percent; Department of Energy, 6 percent; Housing and Urban Development, 12 percent; Treasury, 4 percent; State Department, 29 percent; Agriculture, 21 percent; National Institutes of Health, 20 percent.
A brief sidebar on the N.I.H.: According to the L.A. Times and the New York Times, the world is on the cusp of a golden age in biomedical research and disease treatment. Groundbreaking medical discoveries are revolutionizing medicine. However, the Trump budget contains draconian cuts to this agency, cuts that defy comprehension. Over 80 percent of N.I.H. resources are devoted to competitively reviewed biomedical research, training programs and science centers across the country, while awarding grants and contracts to scientists nationwide. A 20 percent reduction would effectively cripple this essential agency and erode America’s leadership in medical research and diminish opportunities to discover new ways to prevent and treat diseases.
Professor Harold Varmus of Cornell’s School of Medicine, a Nobel Prize winner, and a past director of the N.I.H., stated, “Trump does not appear to get or want advice from experienced people. He has appointed neither a White House science advisor nor outside advisors, both of which have been customary for presidents from both parties for decades.”
Regarding other items in the Trump budget, what follows is a partial list of dozens of programs and independent agencies that would either be significantly cut or eliminated entirely. For example, the impact on H.U.D. would likely result in a truncation of Meals on Wheels; ditto or worse for Americorps; the Legal Services Corporation; the Interagency on Homelessness. Anti-poverty community block grants would be eliminated as would funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Endowments to the Arts and the Humanities. Also proposed for elimination is the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women; the Legal Services Corporation; the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department; Minority Business Development; the International Trade Administration; Office of Community Oriented Policing Services; the Export-Import Bank; U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Office for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Office of Fossil Energy; the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department; and so on.
Keep in mind that there is a budgetary context to all of the above. First, the military budget would be increased from $521 billion to $574 billion per annum, a 10 percent increase. Homeland Security is budgeted for a 7 percent increase.
And then there is the capital outlay for Trump’s promised southern border wall.
It will be 1,300 miles long, 40 feet high, requiring 19 million tons of concrete. The cost is estimated at $10 billion for the wall proper, with infrastructure (roads, cost of land, etc.) pushing the total toward $25 billion. The cost of the Border Patrol was $13 billion in 2016. Trump is requesting an additional 5,000 agents.
Of course, this budget will now be reviewed and debated by Congress. But regardless of the ultimate outcome, it is, as submitted, a statement about this administration’s values and seemingly punitive vision of the common good. What it is not is a populist proposal.
— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.