The screaming had already started well before President Trump revealed his proposals for a “Hard Power Budget” March 16, since the main budget outlines had been circulated to Federal agencies and Departments around the end of February. Thus there were few surprises about the general approach, and the losers in the first phase of the budget process have had several weeks to get their positions organized. You can expect to be deluged with a growing list of passionate appeals from important, intelligent and powerful people from all walks of life — for just about every program that faces Trump’s proposed cuts. In the Washington budget process, the more debate the better.
What we learned Thursday
With the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) release of the 64-page document entitled “America First – A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” we have our first good look at how the Trump Administration wants to handle the Federal Government’s discretionary spending, that is, the budget not including so-called “entitlements” like social security, welfare payments and Medicare and related programs. In Washington they call the outline “the skinny budget,” as the primary document won’t be ready until May.
Trump’s budget proposal aims to avoid increasing the overall deficit so it is essentially a reorganization of existing total spending. The $54 billion boost in defense spending we learned about last month remains in the budget outline, but the funding cuts from other federal programs to allow this increase are massive. And it is not so much a case of simply cutting foreign assistance and diplomacy to support defense and domestic security, it is about cutting sizeable chunks out of most Federal agencies’ lower priority programs, at least for Trump’s OMB team.
Here are some examples of the domestic cuts we are now reading about before we turn to international programs: The Trump OMB outline describes cuts in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (-31%), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (-13%), and the Department of Agriculture (-21%), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (to be reduced sharply) among others. The OMB’s Director Mick Mulvaney made this now infamous comment on March 15: “There’s a lot of programs that simply cannot justify their existence and that’s where we zeroed in.” The Trump Administration also plans to completely eliminate Federal funding for 19 agencies and commissions.
With proposed cuts of this degree, the battles and lobbying for some budget items will be furious. It will be months before anything approaching final figures are reached through the congressional appropriations process, even with a Republican-controlled Congress. And first reactions from Trump’s supposed Republican allies have been loudly negative, according to The Washington Post. Confidently recalling congressional control of the budget process, one senior Republican budget expert noted “Presidents’ propose, Congress disposes.”
What of America’s international role?
The message of disdain for many but not all of America’s global commitments comes through loud and clear in the budget outline, even as money is being shifted around from all sources to allow for a start on the construction on the Mexican border wall. Fortunately, no cutbacks for U.S. Embassy security programs abroad are planned. Not wanting to generate nightmares, here are a just few of the key cuts proposed in the budget outline, and hopefully they will not survive the appropriations process in any recognizable form:
Sending shockwaves to the UN, the budget outline reduces funding to the UN and affiliated agencies, including UN peacekeeping and other international organizations, by setting the expectation that these organizations rein in costs and that the funding burden be shared more fairly among members. The amount the U.S. would contribute to the UN budget would be reduced and the U.S. would not contribute more than 25 percent for UN peacekeeping costs.
The budget outline eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and fulfills President Trump’s pledge to cease payments to the UN’s climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.
The budget outline reduces State Department Educational and Cultural Exchange budget sharply, but retains Fulbright Program funding.
The outline refocuses economic and development assistance to countries of greatest strategic importance to the U.S. and “ensures the effectiveness of U.S. taxpayer investments” by rightsizing funding across countries and sectors. It’s almost impossible to decode this but the consequences can be drastic. We are already hearing that USAID’s senior management is essentially frozen in a somnambulant “caretaker” status.
Funding cuts would also be felt in programs administered by the US Treasury Department. The outline reduces funding for multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, by approximately $650 million over three years compared to commitments made by the Obama Administration. Even with the proposed decreases, the U.S. would retain its current status as a top donor.
Also of note, the budget outline provides $3.1 billion to meet the security assistance commitment to Israel, currently at an all-time high; ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from threats and maintain its “qualitative military edge.”