Trump boosts security budget while slashing anti-poverty programs
WASHINGTON — President Trump submitted a budget Thursday that would radically reorder how federal taxpayer money is spent, steering billions of additional dollars toward the military while slashing money for poor people, children, the elderly, and medical research.
The National Institutes of Health, a major source of money for the Massachusetts economy, would shrink by nearly 20 percent. Regulatory boards would be cut, such as one that recently issued a scathing report about the oil and gas industry’s lack of safety measures in the Gulf of Mexico. A grant program for oceanographic research would also be eliminated.
Dollars would instead flow to the Department of Defense, which would balloon by $54 billion, an amount that “exceeds the entire defense budget of most countries,” according to Trump’s budget document. The Navy would buy more ships. The Air Force would have more planes. The nuclear arsenal would be infused with an extra $1.4 billion. Separately, it adds money to begin building Trump’s much-promised wall at the border with Mexico.
The budget plan was immediately panned by leaders of both parties across the country, including Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who called it “bad for Massachusetts.’’
Robert Coughlin, the president and chief executive of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, said Trump’s proposed cuts to the NIH would be “catastrophic” for the state and affect patients around the world.
“It’s this early-stage science that leads to breakthrough therapies and cures for sick people,” Coughlin said. “It’s good for the economy, and it’s good for society.”
But Trump’s point person on the budget, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Trump brought his eye as a businessman to the cuts and was fulfilling his campaign promises to eliminate waste.
“The president has drafted a budget for the entire nation because that’s who he sees himself as representing,” Mulvaney said at a White House briefing. “He did not ask lobbyists for input on this. He did not ask special interests for input on this. And he certainly didn’t focus on how these programs might impact a specific congressional district.”
“We can’t spend money on programs because they sound good,” he said.
The 53-page budget document entitled “America First” is by far the most detailed set of proposals to come from the country’s new president.
The spending blueprint would leave Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid intact, although the health care overhaul Trump supports would separately slash billions of dollars from Medicaid. But his overarching vision is that many programs for the poor don’t seem to be working and therefore should be reduced or eliminated to make way for improvements to weapons systems.
Veterans are among the few vulnerable populations helped by the budget and would see a $4.6 billion addition to improve their beleaguered health care program.
Trump’s plan and its deep cuts to the federal government echoed President Ronald Reagan’s first budget proposal and offered an early glimpse at how the new president would “deconstruct the administrative state,” a goal articulated by Trump adviser Stephen Bannon.
The plan sets up a showdown with Congress, which is unlikely to agree with many of the priorities. The document would face massive problems being enacted even if Republicans there would go along with it, which is not a given.
“I’ve been on the Hill long enough to know many of these would be very unpopular,” said Mulvaney, briefing reporters at the White House on Thursday.
Indeed, even House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican, sounded unenthusiastic Thursday. “Do I think we need to cut spending and get waste out of government? Absolutely,” Ryan said. “Where and how and what numbers? That’s something we’ll be figuring out as time goes on. This is the very beginning of that process.”
The plan released Thursday outlines how Trump would like to spend about $1.1 trillion in discretionary federal dollars. The plan is an outline, known in Washington as a “skinny budget,” and a more detailed proposal will come in May, Mulvaney said.
In addition to the 10 percent spike in defense spending, Trump’s budget provides a nearly $3 billion financial boost for the Department of Homeland Security — much of it earmarked to design and start construction of an immense wall on the southern border. Trump had said on the campaign trail that the Mexican government would fund the barrier, but Mexico has refused to pay, and Trump’s budget uses US tax dollars.
The president also set aside funds to hire an additional 500 border patrol agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
Missing from the document is any hint of the populism that Trump ran on, like the massive infrastructure plan that he’s talked about repeatedly. There’s no clue about how Trump would rejigger the US tax code. Mulvaney said those initiatives would be introduced later in the year, after Congress deals with the GOP’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.
The budget proposal does show that Trump’s far less concerned with the federal deficit than many conservatives. The gap between federal spending and revenues doesn’t change at all because the deep cuts to programs are offset by the jolt in military spending.
Entire programs would be eliminated, including the Sea Grant funds that support the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance for low-income citizens; and the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The proposal zeros out money for the Community Development Block Grant program, a program popular with local governments.
Asked at a White House press briefing whether the budget was “hard-hearted’’ because of cuts to initiatives like Meals on Wheels and Head Start, Mulvaney called the budget “compassionate.’’
“It’s one of the most compassionate things we can do,’’ he said. “It’s fairly compassionate to say we’re not going to ask [taxpayers] for your hard-earned money anymore . . . unless we can guarantee to you that that money is being used in a proper function. That is about as compassionate as you can get.’’
Mulvaney offered no evidence for how the Trump administration determined that the targeted programs were not working as intended.
Reaction to the plan from the state’s top elected leaders was swift and universally negative.
“The Trump budget is a direct assault on the Massachusetts economy,” Democratic Senator Edward Markey said in an interview. “Our state business plan is based on investments in health care, science, research, and innovation. And this budget takes a sledgehammer to those programs.”
Markey said the overall message is that government would play a far more limited role in the country’s future. “He is going to get the federal government out of the business of research, climate change, and innovation and wait for the private sector or the states to fill in the gaps.”
“His budget will help everybody who is already rich,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said.
She said there’s little for the working class voters who propelled Trump to office, despite the president’s lofty rhetoric that he’s focused on blue-collar Americans. “We have to keep focused on what he actually does,” Warren said. “This budget will help millionaires and billionaires and giant corporations and kick dirt in everyone else’s face.”
The budget reflects Trump’s deep skepticism about climate change, slashing funds in multiple departments used to measure and plan for rising sea levels and a warming planet.
“Unsurprising. Short sighted,” said Phil Duffy, the president and executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center, an independent research institute that focuses on climate change, when asked for his reaction to the plan.
“There is a part of me that thinks they just don’t want this information because it’s not telling the story that they want to tell,” Duffy said. “They want to act like climate change is not happening and not a problem, but the more data we get, the more we can see it is happening. It is having an impact.”