Published On: Fri, Apr 21st, 2017

Trump right to be frugal with federal budget, But cuts should be tempered with care, caution

carlo-barbieriBy Carlo Barbieri

 

If nothing else, President Donald Trump has shown the American public in just three months that he is a man of his word.

And while that hasn’t sunk in with some people who still protest his presidency, it’s a fact that he has already kept many of his campaign promises, and is on track to do more — soon.

The federal budget proposal he recently submitted to Congress bears the mark of these promises, and also his vow to increase funding for the military. With the world currently in crisis, and with challenges coming toward the US from places like North Korea, Russia and Syria, it would be wrong not to pay attention to the ability of America’s fighting forces.

But – and this is a cautionary but – he also needs to maintain the strength of all other government departments to keep citizens safe on the domestic front.

Right now, Trump’s funding plan for is a bit scattershot. Undoubtedly, Congress will restructure it when they sit down and begin working on the financial package. Many Democrats and some Republicans are already criticizing the chief executive for being somewhat heavy-handed with his budget-cutting cleaver.

As always, something middle-of-the-road will likely result when the budget deliberations are done.

To pay for an increase in defense spending, a down payment on the border wall and school voucher programs, among other things, funding was cut from discretionary budgets of other executive departments and agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency, State Department and the Agriculture Department took the hardest hits.

Congress typically makes changes to the president’s proposal — last year, legislators disregarded President Obama’s budget altogether. And mandatory spending, by contrast, is set by other laws and is often determined by the size of the benefit and the eligible population.

Let’s look at what Trump wants to cut and consider the impact.

First, under the Trump spending plan, the Defense Department gets a 9 percent increase in discretionary funding. But that’s only about 3 percent more than what it spent last year. President Trump has cast it as a historic increase in the defense allotment, but critics say it is actually more of an incremental boost and much smaller than what he promised on the campaign trail.

As part of a 16 percent reduction to the Department of Commerce’s budget, the Trump administration proposes sharp cuts in climate-change and ocean research. Undoubtedly, there is some connection between human existence and the erratic nature of climate, enough to investigate it.

The Education Department faces a 14 percent cut under the Trump administration budget, which would downsize or eliminate many grants, including those for teacher training, afterschool programs and aid to low-income and minority college students. The cuts would be coupled with a historic investment — $1.4 billion — in charter schools, private schools and other school-choice initiatives. More of a balance is needed here.

The Trump budget proposal cuts the Energy Department’s budget by 6 percent, but boosts spending on managing the nation’s nuclear stockpile and revives the Yucca Mountain storage facility for nuclear power plant waste. These seem wise in light of past administration’s apparent lack of concern about these areas.

The administration proposes a hefty 18 percent decrease for the Department of Health and Human Services. Thankfully, funding for insurance provided by Medicare and Medicaid are exempt. But such a vast reduction demands more examination.

Just the elimination of billions that the National Institutes of Health give to researchers around the globe, as well as studies at its Bethesda, Md., campus, should be carefully scrutinized, particularly in light of the need for quick action to battle outbreaks of Ebola, Zika and other illnesses with serious world-altering ramifications.

The Department of Homeland Security actually gets a 7 percent boost in its budget, going primarily toward spending on border and immigration enforcement — for a border wall, for 500 new border patrol agents, and 1,000 new immigration and customs enforcement officials.

A 13 percent reduction in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development will strain housing authorities across the nation. And these authorities manage public housing, which relies heavily on money from Uncle Sam.

The elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program, a $3 billion item, is a very sad gash. Locally, one need only visit the Pearl City area of Boca Raton to see how years of accumulated CDBG money has been properly used to improve living conditions for residents.

Trump is also looking to cut the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Choice Neighborhoods program and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program.

Safe, adequate housing for all people is and always has been a must. To shut off the federal spigot without examination of impact is a serious mistake and must be dealt with.

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