While much of the country tunes into March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the White House has unleashed a March Massacre, its “skinny budget” plan for 2018. Budgets often seem impenetrable, packed with a blizzard of numbers too big to comprehend. But budgets are value statements. They tell us what we value and what we discount. President Donald Trump’s budget reveals who counts and who does not.
Trump believes in walls. This budget includes a $2 billion-plus down payment — paid by U.S. taxpayers, not the Mexicans — for his famous wall on the border. It also builds a wall around the wealthy and around the military-industrial complex. They are protected and rewarded; the rest of us are at risk.
The first priority for Trump is a “massive” tax cut for the wealthy and the corporations. A first installment came with his health care plan that cuts the top-end taxes used to subsidize health care under Obamacare and pays for that tax cut by depriving millions of health insurance (14 million in the first year, according to the Congressional Budget Office estimate). Older, lower-wage workers and those living in rural areas — ironically, a source of many Trump votes — get hurt the most.
Trump’s “skinny budget” doesn’t contain his tax cut plan. That is promised in May. But the budget is disciplined by that plan, so increases in military spending are “paid for” by cuts in domestic programs. We don’t know yet how Trump will finance his tax cuts. This budget excludes any reporting on mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare. What’s clear is that Trump will either violate his promise to protect those programs or violate his pledge to balance the budget in a decade. The March Massacre is likely to be followed by a May Monstrosity.
Trump will add 10 percent, or $54 billion, to the Pentagon’s budget over its baseline (3 percent and $18 billion over Obama’s plan). The Pentagon already spends more than the countries with next eight largest military budgets combined. Its books are so messed up that they cannot be audited. Cost overruns, sole-source contract rip-offs and massive waste are routine. What we need are not smarter missiles but wiser policies. But wisdom is not protected behind the wall: Trump would cut funding for diplomacy by nearly 30 percent. Even military generals and admirals have protested against this folly.
Trump lays waste to the domestic programs beyond his walls. The most vulnerable take the biggest hit. His budget would devastate rural areas, cutting regional development authorities, support for rural radio stations and rural airports, support for clean water projects and more. Combined with his health care plan, Trump is betraying his biggest supporters. Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky denounced the reductions as “draconian, careless and counterproductive.” And he’s a Republican.
Trump abandons his pledge to rebuild our inner cities. His budget cuts funds for virtually every program for impacted communities — community development block grants, preschool and after-school programs, summer enrichment programs, help for students to prepare for college, college work-study and grant programs, infant nutrition for impoverished mothers with children, and housing and rent subsidy programs. If passed, this budget will produce more unemployment, more poverty, more despair and more shattered dreams. Trump deals with this by calling for a return to aggressive police tactics, giving police the impossible task of sustaining order amid despair.
Trump tramples his promise to working people. This budget contains no hint of a program to rebuild America. It decimates Labor Department funding to enforce worker health and safety in factories and mines, to protect against wage theft, to ensure that minimum wage and fair-hours laws are respected.
Much more is left on the cutting room floor. Programs to deal with climate change are gutted. The Republican fixation on Planned Parenthood and rolling back support for women’s health care continues. The budget makes a bizarre assault on science and research, cutting even the medical research at the National Institutes of Health.
Congressional Republicans have called Trump’s budget dead on arrival. They can’t raise military spending without gaining Democratic votes, and Democrats will block the deepest and more perverse cuts. But the thrust of Trump’s budget reflects the values that govern the Republican congressional majorities. They won’t get everything they want, but what they get will leave America more unequal, more vulnerable, with greater poverty and despair from Chicago’s inner cities to Appalachia’s rural hollows.