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Weekend Reading on Trump’s Budget

What will likely be many months of congressional wrangling over Trump's draconian budget cuts is just beginning. Here's some reading to get you up to speed.

Weekend Reading on Trump's Budget

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney arrives for a briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House March 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Trump put out a budget this week. Perhaps you heard. If passed, it would significantly change America. Agencies across the government would have their funding slashed — the EPA’s budget would be brought down to a 40-year low. It’s a lot to process, and it gives members of Congress in both parties a lot to oppose.

Don’t call it a budget. It’s really a hit list — a contract for a wave of program assassinations.

— Max Sawicky, The Baffler

Congress will have a chance to rewrite the budget significantly before sending it back to the president’s desk by Oct. 1, the day when the government will run out of money. So, unlike Trump’s stream of executive orders, this proposal will not become law, immediately, and will undergo a lot of changes in Congress. “What a presidential budget really represents is a wish list and a numerical expression of the president’s political philosophy,” John Cassidy writes for The New Yorker.

With that in mind, here’s a late-breaking roundup of weekend reading on the budget, and the fight around it that will likely unfold over the next six months.



  • What gets cut? Quite a bit of nonmandatory federal spending on programs and agencies — but not the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and programs to push school choice. (Mandatory spending includes things like Social Security, Medicaid and payments on the national debt.) Bloomberg Politics has some handy charts, and a list of 80 programs that will take a hit, each with their own implications. (The National Institutes of Health may not be able to make grants in 2018, for instance, according to a report in Science magazine.) “Don’t call it a budget. It’s really a hit list — a contract for a wave of program assassinations,” Max Sawicky writes at The Baffler. “As such it is as much a political provocation as an actual policy proposal. Their deficiencies aside, Trump & Co. are good at provocations.”
  • “Compassionate conservatism,” apparently: At New York Magazine, Eric Levitz writes that the administration is, tone deafly, trying to argue that the austerity their budget would bring about is “compassionate.” For instance, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, argued at a press conference yesterday that cutting programs like Meals on Wheels is “one of the most compassionate things we can do.” Of climate change, he said: “We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money.”
  • Letting polluters off the hook: The budget seems to take aim, most aggressively, at environmental programs, which are a sore spot for the president who promises to bring back coal and ignore the climate change “hoax.” At Grist, Emma Foehringer Merchant and Lisa Hymas round up the many environmental programs the budget will decimate or eliminate completely. And at Climate Central, John Upton writes that Trump’s enormous cuts to the EPA and other regulatory agencies will likely allow polluting industries more leeway to shirk the law. “Individual polluters are going to be able to get away with violating the law much more easily,” environmental law professor Ann Carlson tells Upton.
  • Coal country contradiction: Trump promised to revive the Appalachian areas where coal was once king, and and attracted quite a bit of support from voters who hoped he could do that. But, in addition to axing environmental restrictions — a move that many feel will do little to create jobs in the mostly automated coal industry — Trump’s budget slashes economic development programs in coal country, Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters. It would “cut funds to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the US Economic Development Administration. The Washington-based organizations are charged with diversifying the economies of states like West Virginia and Kentucky to help them recover from coal’s decline.”
  • Shrinking State: Next to the EPA and the Department of Agriculture, the State Department will see the biggest cuts. Some of these are also targeted at climate change programs — two large programs to help developing countries fight and prepare for climate change would be eliminated — and others slash foreign aid and funding for the UN, Carol Morello reports for The Washington Post. But the budget’s effort to cut diplomatic programs at the State Department while beefing up the military indicates a larger, whiplash-inducing shift in worldview between Trump and Obama, Zack Beauchamp writes for Vox.
  • Cut and paste: Parts of President Trump’s drastic budget proposal — including the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — were lifted straight from proposals from the right-wing Heritage Foundation, a group funded by corporations and wealthy donors to push extreme deregulation, tax cuts and climate denial in Washington. “Many of the White House proposal’s ideas are identical to a budget blueprint Heritage drew up last year,” Zaid Jilani writes for The Intercept. In response to Trump’s budget proposal, the Heritage Foundation had only one complaint: It doesn’t spend enough on defense.
  • What populism? Trump’s decision to embrace Heritage’s warped priorities is a stark break with his campaign trail rhetoric. The budget is a cartoon version of a Republican budget, helping corporations while neglecting the struggling, “forgotten” Americans Trump claimed to champion. “Where’s the populism?” Steve Bell, a Republican and longtime Senate Budget Committee director, asked USA Today. “This is almost like Trump said, ‘Hey somebody get me a budget,’ and Heritage said, ‘We’ve got one right here.'”
  • Goodbye, Big Bird: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would change dramatically, and possibly collapse, if Trump’s proposal to defund the system passes Congress. It would hit the network particularly hard in less populated, rural areas. “More than 70 percent of CPB’s appropriation is distributed” in these smaller markets, Joseph Lichterman writes for Harvard’s Nieman Lab. “These stations are heavily dependent on federal funding because they can’t generate enough revenue through pledge drives or other means to keep them going.” In addition to NPR and PBS’ public affairs programming, children’s shows on the public broadcasting system offer educational programming for lower income families who will also be hit hard by other aspects of the budget.
  • Stingy on gun violence: Even though the budget does allot funds to “target the worst of the worst criminal organizations and drug traffickers in order to address violent crime, gun-related deaths and the opioid epidemic,” Jeff Sessions, while meeting with police officials in Chicago, said he would not be able to promise any more money to address the gun violence there, according to the Chicago Tribune.
  • The defense rallies: Opponents of the cuts are beginning to counter-message. For instance, at Talking Points Memo, Caitlin MacNeal writes that defenders of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities are pointing out that these organization’s funding is not just funding “elite institutions,” as some Republicans seem to believe — they “offer crucial support to the public education system, help veterans readjust to civilian life and bring arts and culture to small communities.”
  • Democrats and, more importantly, Republicans, aren’t pleased: Even the president’s allies in Congress are saying the proposal needs a rewrite. Hal Rogers, the former chair of the House Appropriations Committee, which has quite a bit of power over spending, slammed Trump’s budget as “draconian, careless and counterproductive.” Republicans are feeling particularly defensive when it comes to cuts that would hit their own districts, The Wall Street Journal reports. That said, members of Congress have not been the most reliable Trump opponents thus far.



This roundup was compiled by John Light with help from Jessica Ramírez Calderón. A version of this was roundup was published in our morning “Daily Reads” newsletter, which you can sign up to receive every weekday morning.