It reflects a kind of banana republic militarism designed to fleece taxpayers, enrich defense contractors, disloyal agencies and screw the poor at every turn
Donald Trump isnt a details guy, which is why his skinny budget is skinnier than most. Every president sends these proposals to Congress to specify their general spending preferences. Trumps plan is especially sketchy when it comes to how it actually pays for everything. As a political vision, though, it couldnt be clearer: a kind of banana republic militarism designed to fleece taxpayers, enrich defense contractors, punish agencies deemed disloyal and screw the poor at every turn.
It is at least refreshing that Trumps budget plan makes no pretenses of fiscal responsibility. It seeks to lift the spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, the last big attempt to rein in deficits, because the BCA set limits to defense and non-defense discretionary spending alike. Trump wants a $54bn boost for the military, and promises to pay for it by eliminating programs popular with many, including Republican, members of Congress. Which wont happen, which means some combination of austerity and deficit spending instead.
Trump likes to compare himself to Reagan, and the comparison isnt unwarranted: Reagans legacy, too, was putting the country massively into debt to pay for an arms race. That Trumps arms race is not only wasteful but impractical is, like Trump, another 80s throwback: the proposal leans heavily on military hardware that is entirely inappropriate for the wars the US finds itself fighting today, with outlays for warships and fighter jets, despite the fact that Isis, last anyone checked, does not have a navy or air force.
Trump doesnt want an effective military; he wants a big, expensive, ostentatious one that he can march down Pennsylvania Avenue like a Soviet May Day parade. The centerpiece to this, Trumps Star Wars, is the disastrous F-35 joint strike fighter, which Republicans and even Trump himself have derided as a turkey that cant perform any of the functions its supposed to, other than make money for Lockheed Martin.
On the non-defense side, Trumps plan calls for austerity that will fall squarely on the shoulders of the poor. Someone has to pay for all those F-35s, after all, and it wont be Trumps golfing buddies at Mar-a-Lago, who hes promised tax cuts (the biggest since Reagan, maybe bigger). The cutbacks include those to the women, infants and children program, loans for small business owners, after-school programs and work-study aid for students, and job training programs for both low-income youth and senior citizens. And the proposed budget eliminates outright the Community Development Block Grant program, the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Economic Development Administration, programs which give grants and provide financial services to poor communities.
There are many other programs on the chopping block, most of which are economically insignificant: foreign aid, long targeted by Republicans despite its role in counterterrorism, is 1% of the federal budget. Trumps plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts entirely, for example, would pay for one F-35. Yet even if voters may not care about Sesame Street, or national parks, or finding a cure for cancer, theres something deeply sadistic about eliminating a program that helps elderly poor people heat their homes in the winter especially coming from a president who has charged taxpayers $10m and counting for weekend getaways to his Palm Beach mansion.
Trumps budget isnt about saving money hes said so himself, that military spending is more important than a balanced budget. And it isnt about rebuilding a depleted military for a country that already spends more on defense than the next twelve countries combined. Trumps plan is about catering to his base. Not the fabled white working class, who will soon lose their WIC, heating subsidies, and job training. No, his real base, those golfing buddies and board members at companies like Lockheed, who want lower taxes and access to the government spigot, and want poor people to pay for it all.
Its also about disciplining the deep state. Notably, the agencies facing the sharpest cuts are not the most expensive but those Trump has suspected of disloyalty: the EPA, state department and the USDA, all of which Trumps transition team sought to muzzle and requested lists of names of employees working on programs he opposes.
Taken as a whole, Trumps proposal points to an increasingly paranoid strongman who sees budgets as tools to reward friends and punish enemies, the military as a personal ornament, and poor Americans as piggy banks for his boondoggles and vanity projects. This doesnt even cover the wall, which would cost enough to pay for the NEA for the next 146 years.
The likelihood that Congress will pass a bill looking much like Trumps proposal is slim. After all, everyone hates government spending except when it funnels into their home district. Most likely Trump sees it as an Art-of-the-Deal-style opening bid, in which Congressional Republicans will come back with slightly less draconian cuts that look reasonable only in comparison.
What remains to be seen is how long Trump voters, many of whom will be on the losing end of any bargain that makes it through Congress, will go along with it. This will be the eighth straight year of austerity for non-defense discretionary spending, and its about to get a lot worse. Anger at austerity has brought down governments in other countries. Which may be why Trumps been planning those military parades.