Thursday, March 16, 2017

America First Budget

Donald trump presented his first budget proposal to the world today, he even gave it a name: the “America First Budget”. Since two thirds of what a government does is tax and spend this is a third of everything we can expect on the Trump administration's want list. We say things when talking about a society like “fought a war”, or “built this thing”, but we really mean we paid people who did this, and so what we are going to pay people to do is a really big deal; especially if the numbers are really big. Looking at the America First Budget it appears as if we will be saying a lot more “fought a war” than “built this thing” in our future history books.

The big number is the 10% increase to the Department of Defense. This is a 54 billion dollar increase. That is a lot of bang for a country that is not (only in advisory roles) currently at war. By comparison the French military budget for 2012 was only 62.6 billion in total. Russia only spent 90.6 billion dollars on their military in 2012; up from 78.3 billion in 2011.

Because of cuts to the arts and a desire to only focus on approved scientific topics it will be possible to draw parallels between the Cultural Revolution in China and the budget choices as they get implemented. I hope the lack of imprisonment and torture will render all those comparisons hyperbolic, but there is a lot of work to do to get this America First Budget implemented.

I should point out that reading through this budget has created a condition of shock and sarcasm that might leak into my prose. I have never seen a budget that includes statements like “the President means business”, and uses adjectives like “bold” for the President’s agenda, and I think that counts as leaky prose as well. I would rather leak sarcasm onto an often snarky blog than leak narcissism onto a Presidential Budget proposal.

The point man for the budget is Office of Management and Budget Director John Michael "Mick" Mulvaney. He has already been given what could be interesting new powers in a couple January executive actions that Trump signed. He was taking a tour of news shows today. He was being unnervingly excited by this budget proposal.

Instead of just jawing about the America First Budget let me give you some numbers and quotes extricated from it.

Donald introduces his budget by using a bunch of complete sentences. This is a nice departure from his speeches. He makes at least one point that is intriguing and a little vague. He is going to get the rest of the world to pay "its fair share", but I am not sure if that means a fair share of this America First Budget, or if there is another shadow budget.

“ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share.” – Donald Trump in the forward to the America First Budget

Another shadowy part of the budget is the “21st Century CURES Act”. Discussion of the funding for one of the last bills Obama signed into law looks like it is tacked onto the rest of the budget. It gives 6.3 billion dollars towards a hodgepodge of things, and has been called a “moonshot for cancer cures”. This act appears to be fully funded, but most of that funding appears to be offset by a decrease in the funding for the National Institutes of Health. Most everything else lurking in the shadows of this budget is scary.

The summary itself boasts of the agencies that are eliminated in the budget. The list is long, but they got it into one sentence with a liberal use of semi-colons.

“The Budget also proposes to eliminate funding for other independent agencies, including:
the African Development Foundation;
the Appalachian Regional Commission;
the Chemical Safety Board;
the Corporation for National and Community Service;
the Corporation for Public Broadcasting;
the Delta Regional Authority;
the Denali Commission;
the Institute of Museum and Library Services;
the Inter-American Foundation;
the U.S. Trade and Development Agency;
the Legal Services Corporation;
the National Endowment for the Arts;
the National Endowment for the Humanities;
the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation;
the Northern Border Regional Commission;
the Overseas Private Investment Corporation;
the United States Institute of Peace;
the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness;
and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.” – from the America First Budget (line breaks added for clarity)

Many individual department budgets are decreased by double digit percentages. There are cuts are directly targeted at climate change science in several obscure places.

Department of Agriculture 21% decrease (down 4.7 billion)
Department of Commerce 16% decrease (down 1.5 billion)

“Zeroes out over $250 million in targeted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education including Sea Grant” – from the America First Budget

Department of Defense 10% increase (up 54 billion)
Department of Education 13% decrease (down 9 billion)

The Department of Education budget actually appears cut by more since they shuffle a bit inside of the department to begin funding “school choice” programs.

“The 2018 Budget places power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children by investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs.” – from the America First Budget

Department of Energy 5.6% decrease (down 1.7 billion)

The Department of Energy handles the US nuclear stockpile, and “owns” the nuclear reactors on our nuclear-powered naval vessels. The budget also appears cut by more that the gross percentage as money is shuffled from activities inside of the department that might be associated with responding to the threat of climate change to increase spending on the defense activities inside the department.

“Provides $120 million to restart licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and initiate a robust interim storage program.” – from the America First Budget

Eliminated Department of Energy activities:
   Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
   Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program
   Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program
   Weatherization Assistance Program
   State Energy Program
   Energy Star

I really liked the Energy Star program.

Department of Health and Human Services 17.0% decrease (down 15.1 billion)

A big portion of the cut in the Department of Health and Human Services budget, and almost enough to offset the “21st Century CURES Act” cost, comes just from the NIH budget.

“Reduces the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) spending relative to the 2017 annualized CR level by $5.8 billion to $25.9 billion.” – from the America First Budget

Department of Homeland Security 6.8% increase (2.8 billion)

The wall is housed in this department’s budget. More will be spent on homeland security efforts like the wall as there is some shuffling of priorities within this department too. Some FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) projects are cut significantly.

“The Budget would aggressively implement the President’s commitment to construct a physical wall along the southern border as directed by his January 25, 2017 Executive Order” – from the America First Budget

Department of Housing and Urban Development 13.2% decrease (down 6.2 billion)
Department of the Interior 12% decrease (down 1.5 billion)

In this department the shuffling takes money from conservation efforts and helps to subsidize mining and drilling for oil.

“Strengthens the Nation’s energy security by increasing funding for DOI (Department of the Interior) programs that support environmentally responsible development of energy on public lands and offshore waters.” – from the America First Budget

Department of Justice 3.8% decrease (down 1.1 billion)
Department of Labor 21% decrease (down 2.5 billion)
Department of State 28% decrease (down 10.1 billion)

The lion’s share of State Department budget cuts come from foreign aid, but turning away from examining climate change is a very significant portion of the State Department’s budgetary cut. The State Department’s Global Climate Change Initiative alone was $1.3 billion in this year’s budget.

“A lot of the money for climate research, climate change work, is in the state department budget, so that’s one of the reasons you see such a large reduction there.” - Office of Management and Budget Director John Michael "Mick" Mulvaney in a 16 March 2017 interview

Department of Transportation 13% decrease (down 2.4 billion)
Department of the Treasury 4.1% decrease (down 0.52 billion)
Department of Veterans Affairs 6% increase (up 4.4 billion)
Environmental Protection Agency 31% decrease (down 2.6 billion)

The EPA is cut to shreds. Lots of things cut that could be very important soon. However, climate change science contributed significantly to the slashing of the EPA budget.

“Discontinues funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts” – from the America First Budget

National Aeronautics and Space Administration 0.8% decrease (down 1.7 billion)
Small Business Administration 5% decrease (down 0.043 billion)

We have been told to expect a new tax plan soon. That should also be interesting, but in a more subtle way. Deciding who pays the bills is more of a tweaking of our social structure, and I have a feeling that there are some really aggressive tweakers in the White house these days.

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