Trump budget facing early test over border wall money
Published on “The Boca Raton Tribune”
On 04/26/2017 By Carlo Barbieri
Second of two
Financial matters can make rapid changes of direction in Washington, D.C., that’s for certain.
Barely a week ago, this column examined President Trump’s proposed budgets for government departments in the coming fiscal year. We noted that he has cut back spending for virtually all except the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
In just the few days since I penned that analysis, it appears Trump is going to have to forgo the money he tucked away in the DHS financial plan to begin construction of a wall along the Mexican border.
As this column is going to press, Friday has not yet arrived. And Friday is the day a spending bill to keep the government operating must be passed. Otherwise, most federal agencies will shut down. And we all remember what a fiasco that turned out to be when it was done just a few years ago during the Obama administration.
But Trump has given his GOP minions an escape plan. He has let Republican leaders in Congress know he is willing to bypass a fight for the wall money until September if it averts a government shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), says the preference of most GOP leaders is to give Trump only the border technology and staffing he needs right now and leave the battle over the wall for later.
It seems obvious, and a good move on his part, to defer the wall construction money rather than to use it as a pawn in a battle he cannot win. If government shuts down again, the Republicans will be blamed again – as they were several years ago, even though it was Obama who did egregious things like closing World War II Park in Washington so visiting World War II vets could not get in, for example.
Right now, we will continue with what we intended to cover in this column – a further examination of Trump’s overall budget.
I wanted to begin with the State Department’s spending package. The president wants to cut expenses, which has rankled at least one of his own cabinet appointees.
Trump’s 29 percent proposed cut refocuses economic and development aid to countries of the greatest strategic importance to the U.S., and it shifts some foreign military aid from grants to loans.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis said money being slashed by Trump is needed to help project the sort of diplomatic power that prevents conflict in the first place. It’s also no help to Trump for his budget cuts to impact foreign aid, the United Nations and climate-change prevention programs, including payments already pledged to the UN for its climate-change studies.
The Department of Transportation could run out of steam if Trump shrinks the budget by 13 percent. It affects many areas of transit, including flight rail and roads.
The spending plan would move what has been a core government function — air traffic control — outside of government hands, and push responsibility for many transit and other projects to local government.
Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains would be halted, leaving the South, West and Midwest without train service. Mr. Trump may have forgotten that Republican President Richard Nixon created Amtrak in 1970 to save national passenger service, and Amtrak has done wonders with what little money it gets from Uncle Sam, though service still needs work. It should be noted that no industrialized country in the world exists without a nationwide rail system, vital not only for day-to-day travelers, but in case of war or disaster.
Under the Trump administration proposal, the Interior Department faces a 12 percent cut. That could strain everyday maintenance of national parks and historic sites, as well as enforcement of activity such as illegal wildlife trafficking at the nation’s borders.
The president is also making an overall 4 percent cut in the Department of Justice’s budget, though boosting the DOJ’s tough-on-crime and anti-immigration efforts. The 4 percent cut seems to come from a reduction in federal prison construction because of a reduced inmate population and by purging unnamed “outdated” programs.
The 21 percent proposed cut in the Labor Department reduces funding for job training programs that benefit seniors and disadvantaged youth. The proposal would also shift funding responsibility to states for certain job placement programs.
The Treasury’s budget would shrink by 4 percent, with other funds reallocated toward the department’s security missions: preventing hacking, seizing terrorists’ bank accounts and enforcing sanctions on foreign adversaries.
The Department of Veterans Affairs would be one of the few departments to see its budget grow, by 6 percent to $78.9 billion. Most of the increase would improve veterans’ access to doctors and support services following a scandal in 2014 over patient wait times.
The money would also help fill some of the agency’s more than 45,000 vacant medical positions. Veterans Choice, a program that gives patients the option to see private doctors outside the VA system, would also expand.
Last week, we urged President Trump and Congress to use care and caution when approving the budget. The needs of the military, national security and veterans are important, but to focus so much on them while jeopardizing domestic programs that help many – particularly those with legitimate needs and legitimate life difficulties – requires careful scrutiny before the votes are taken to make them law.