Quoted in the Washington Post, former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has referred to President Trump’s budget as “a scorched earth budget that represents an all out assault on clean air, water, and land.” She continued to state that “You can’t put ‘America First’ when you put the health of its people and its country last.”
Earlier this month, President Trump released his Proposed Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. As it was speculated, the budget contains drastic cuts to several departments, and eliminates funding for nineteen agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suffers the largest percentage cut at 31%, followed closely by the State Department at 29%. The State Department cut translates to decreased funding of $10.9 Billion. Cuts to climate change efforts, foreign aid, and cultural exchange programs demonstrate a shift from an international focus to an “America First” perspective.
Though individuals such as Gina McCarthy have come out against the budget, and others have supported the proposed changes, it is important to remember that the budget process is threefold: the first step is the release of the President’s annual budget request, followed by a congressional budget resolution, and ending with enactment of the budget legislation.
Currently, only the President’s budget request has taken place. This document illustrates what the President believes the overall fiscal policy should be, what the target taxation should be, and whether the federal government will run a surplus or deficit. As it stands, the budget continues the trend of deficit spending as it was through the Obama administration. The last time the U.S. Government had a balanced budget, and ran a surplus, was from 1998-2001 during the Clinton administration.
Though these numbers are initial proposals, and need to undergo congressional review, the budget itself is a concerning political statement. Throughout the election, President Trump’s vernacular echoed the sentiment of America moving in the direction of isolationism where America and her allies are at the center, and those who disagree are reprimanded. This is reflected in the proposed budget cuts, primarily in the State Department.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stated previously that State Department spending was “simply not sustainable” and that he is up to the challenge of the 29% cut. There are a few State Department programs and entities that are facing a daunting uphill battle. The few big “losers” through the State Department cuts are USAID, the World Bank, the United Nations, and Treasury International Programs.
USAID is integral to maintaining diplomacy abroad through development and economic aid programs worldwide. Funding is projected to decrease from 36.7 Billion to 25.6 Billion One eliminated USAID program is the Global Climate Change Initiative, a $350 Million effort to promote sustainable societies and economic growth.
The World Bank finances antipoverty programs in developing countries, and is facing a reduction of $650 Million over three years.
The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization seeking to further international cooperation. It facilitates peacekeeping programs, climate change treaties and several global efforts. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has defended the budget cuts stating the U.N. “spends more money than it should” indicating the burden is greater on the U.S. than other countries, and signifying the U.S. is not the global protector.
Treasury International Programs, through the Treasury Department, help encourage global economic growth, and face a $1.5 Billion cut.
Though the State Department is facing budget cuts, Defense spending is looking at an increase in funding by $54 Billion, which will help to increase the size of the Army and Marine corps, the Naval fleet, increased fighter jets and spending for Air Force combat planes. Though defense is seeing a 9% boost, more than 120 retired generals have signed a letter to Congress stating they believe State Department funding should not be slashed, and that diplomatic global programs are essential to the safety to America.
As the Trump Administration grows out of its infancy, it will be interesting to see whether the enactment of the budget cuts will be supported by an increasingly conflicted Republican base, and whether or not actions actually do speak louder than words.
Rohini Ravi is a Masters of Public Policy Student at Duke University focusing on global health and international development.