The Editors: Trump's budget pays for defense by weakening the social safety net

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speak to the media about President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget in the Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speak to the media about President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget in the Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)  

A president’s first budget plan is one of the milestones in his or her transition from the nominee of a political party to the leader of the entire nation. Ideally, the federal budget is a blueprint for progress toward several shared goals, including fiscal responsibility, the safety and security of the United States, and the alleviation of social ills including poverty and unemployment. Unfortunately, the 2018 budget plan unveiled by the Trump administration on May 23 is out of balance on several accounts.

Rather than attempting to unify the country after a dispiriting election year, the $4.1 trillion budget plan reflects a radical shift in priorities. In order to pay for a $54 billion increase in defense spending of dubious value and without accounting for the costs of a planned major tax cuts, the Trump administration proposes to slash spending on almost every other discretionary program (i.e., aside from Medicare and Social Security, which Mr. Trump promised on the campaign trail not to touch). There are severe cuts to arts programs, education, scientific research and foreign aid, but anti-poverty efforts are taking some of the biggest hits. The budget plan includes a 29 percent cut to the food stamp program, a 19 percent cut to the Children’s Health Insurance Program and double-digit cuts to Medicaid, unemployment insurance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (which has been continuously squeezed since its creation 20 years ago as part of welfare reform).

The stigmatization of those receiving government assistance undermines the claim that the budget is concerned with the common good.

The Trump administration has dubbed this the “Taxpayer First Budget,” which is reminiscent of the “makers vs. takers” framing that House Speaker Paul Ryan wisely repudiated a few years ago. The stigmatization of those receiving government assistance undermines the claim that the budget is concerned with the common good. It is also shortsighted. Taxpayers, after all, do not include children, many retirees and others who contribute greatly to society. It is true that, as White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said in defending the budget, "There's a dignity to work,” but it is largely a myth that assistance programs discourage recipients from seeking employment. For example, most households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult continue to have someone working while they receive food stamps; the assistance program largely keeps families from sliding further into poverty, especially when only low-wage jobs are available.

The Trump budget is not without worthy ideas, including the creation of a federally funded family leave program, a new fund to quickly respond to disease epidemics, the expansion of school-choice programs (albeit at a smaller-than-expected scale) and a perhaps-too-modest infrastructure plan that includes both direct federal spending and incentives for public-private partnerships (but also cuts to Amtrak and other existing infrastructure programs). Less welcome is the fiscal irresponsibility of a bookkeeping sleight-of-hand that projects an unrealistic growth rate in a national economy that is already near full employment and presumes that huge tax cuts will have no negative impact on government revenue. (Cutting the budget of the Internal Revenue Service would also seem to go against the “Taxpayer First” principle of ensuring that all households pay their fair share of taxes.)

The U.S. bishops have raised some serious concerns about what this proposal says about our national values.

From here the budget plan goes to Capitol Hill, and we trust that congressional leaders of both parties will take seriously the task of reconciling the numbers with the public good. Members of Congress will surely hear from constituents worried that it has the wrong priorities—and that it may not convincingly address some of its stated goals, including deficit reduction, moving more Americans into the workforce and making a serious effort to discern the efficacy of safety-net programs rather than to cut them indiscriminately.

The U.S. bishops have raised some serious concerns about what this proposal says about our national values. In a statement released before the unveiling of the budget plan, the bishops said it was “profoundly troubling” that increases to defense and the enforcement of immigration law could mean deep cuts to “domestic and international programs that assist the most vulnerable.” The budget’s moral measure will be assessed by “how well it promotes the common good of all,” the bishops wrote. After the budget plan was released, Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz wrote in the Louisville Courier-Journal, "Our church has always said that we fulfill our responsibility to the poor not only through personal charity, but also through our support for just governmental policies." He added, “I urge Congress to reject these severe cuts to poverty-focused national and international assistance.”

The church has not only the right but the duty to raise its voice during the long process of hammering out the budget. After all, if Washington guesses wrong about economic growth and the employment prospects of those currently receiving assistance, religious and other charities may face a near-impossible burden in caring for the needy. As Mr. Ryan wrote in America in 2014, we must resist the “false choice” of private charity and public assistance. In addressing poverty, he wrote, “the question is not whether we should use the market or the government; it is how to use them both.” In its wholesale cuts to almost all forms of public assistance, the Trump administration succumbs to the false choice that Mr. Ryan warned about.

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Eugene Fitzpatrick
3 months 4 weeks ago

The Editors' stance is highly welcomed. But it needs strong emphasis that the American Catholic leadership message dissemination has to stop being solely sent from some obscure office on 4th. St., NE Washington, D.C. and start being promulgated frequently and with a certain vehemence from every Catholic pulpit in the land. American Catholics in general have a great tolerance for their country's evil-doing in part because their leadership's condemnation of it is done with a sock in its mouth, standing in a dark closet with the door shut.

Mike Evans
3 months 4 weeks ago

Since many of the upper level leadership of the church are trump supporters, the church will only express scattered and weak responses to this economic tragedy.

Michael Seredick
3 months 4 weeks ago

Is anyone surprised? Catholic Church leadership was behind Trump all the way. Now, you see the results in full view. Saying is not the same as doing. Live with your choice.

Tom Fields
3 months 4 weeks ago

How is the "War on Poverty working" out?
It is horrible! Let's try something new. The best way out of poverty---financially and psychologically---is a JOB. Jobs come from a growing economy, reduced taxes on businesses, reduced regulations, access to capital, and, most importantly---improvemdent in the schools---especially training in the trades---on computers---math, basic life skills......
The inner-city schools have long been controlled by Democrat administrations and teacher unions---producing poor results BUT providing money to Democrat politicians.
It is horrible for the Catholic Church to back and support this cabal

Chuck Kotlarz
3 months 4 weeks ago

“The best way out of poverty…is a JOB.”

Perhaps the best way out of poverty requires a living wage for fifty million US workers earning $20,000 or less. Two percent of US GDP would bring many low wage earners to $15/hour. Instead, four percent of GDP benefits primarily the top 1400 incomes.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 months 4 weeks ago

To the Editors
It would be nice if the words used by the Editors..."Slash" and "Cut" .....with reference to the proposed budget had their ordinary meaning. These are loaded political buzz words with a distinct Washington meaning. They are ridiculously misleading to the ordinary reader with an ordinary understanding of these words.
In point of fact Budget Director Mr Mulvaney has gone to great lengths to point out that these so called "slashes" and "cuts" are at worst a freeze at current levels of some programs and generally for other programs they constitute something less than the yearly increases the bureaucracy wants/demands.
Further the numbers you attach as "cuts" to selected programs are the total reduction in increases for the next 10 years! Your statements clearly lead a reader to believe these totals are cuts for just next year .

If I contributed to my parish $10,000 last year and contribute the same $10,000 amount this year, have I "slashed" or "cut" my contribution? If I increased that amount this year to $10,500 , are the Editors seriously suggesting that my pastor can accuse me of "slashing or cutting" my contribution because he expected me to give $11,000?
If today I were to tell my pastor I will give my parish $130,000 over the next 10 years when my pastor wanted me to give $160,000, then have I today "cut" or "slashed" $30,000 from my gifting? I think not!!

Further The Editors opine that the..."$54 billion increase in defense spending (is) of dubious value" . I doubt very much that the Editors :1) have seen or understood the uses of that defense money , or 2) for that matter that they have the expertise in this area to even comment intelligently.

The Editors condemn the Budget projected rate of growth as " fiscal irresponsibility of book keeping sleight-of-hand" and "unrealistic". Just where were the Editors when Obama Budget Director Larry Summers used exactly the same projected growth rate for the 2009 Budget?
I don't recall the Editors being concerned with the resulting sky rocketing national debt to support social justice programs justified by the Summers projection. It would seem that in Washington DC and in America Magazine all economics and economic analysis are politically motivated.

It is indeed fully within the Church's right and duty to raise its voice on these issues. But it should do so based on facts and not misleading and erroneous statements as noted above. Nor by critiquing areas such as defense spending in which the representatives of the Church have neither conducted sufficient inquiry nor have the proper education for intelligent commentary.

James MacGregor
3 months 4 weeks ago

There never has been a war on poverty - only years of failed programs that have been a sewer for our money.

Mike Evans
3 months 4 weeks ago

Yep, continue to blame every impoverished, sick, and disabled person for just failing to lift themselves out of poverty. After all, it was because of some other moral failing that they are now being punished. The beating down will continue and grow stronger until morale improves.

Joseph J Dunn
3 months 4 weeks ago

That headline and the sentence, “Ideally, the federal budget is a blueprint for progress toward several shared goals, including fiscal responsibility, the safety and security of the United States, and the alleviation of social ills including poverty and unemployment,” conflate much and risk confusion where clarity is readily available.

The Constitution charges the federal government, specifically and exclusively, with responsibility for the national defense and foreign relations. The general duties to “insure domestic tranquility” and “promote the general welfare” are shared with the states. A sense of subsidiarity affirms the wisdom of this arrangement. The taxpayers who pay into the federal coffers are the same taxpayers who pay into the state coffers. If a particular state finds the reduced federal welfare benefits objectionably deficient, that state’s taxpayers have broad authority to enact, and pay for, any new or expanded benefit they deem appropriate—free college for all, no-deductible medical insurance, expanded nutrition programs, etc. The editors’ nod to fiscal responsibility is appropriate. Moving closer to a balanced federal budget would appear wise when, as now, the accumulated federal debt is $20 trillion. Our federal representatives and president must set the amounts of defense and foreign policy spending, as is their responsibility. Taxpayers, through their state representatives, have full flexibility to construct, and pay for, all manner of social benefits, to monitor results and make whatever adjustments they deem appropriate.

J Cosgrove
3 months 4 weeks ago

This editorial is an example of "fake news." This may sound a little harsh but the article does not come anywhere close to presenting what is happening or proposed. At best it misleads. Especially egregious is the phrase

by abandoning the war on poverty

The Washington Post article the editors link to refutes this editorial.

J Cosgrove
3 months 3 weeks ago

Here are some statistics on food stamps

Fiscal Food Stamp - Month 3
Year - Spending - Unemployment rate

2007 - 33.2 B - 4.4%
2008 - 37.6 B - 5.0%
2009 - 53.6 B - 7.3%
2010 - 68.3 B - 9.9%
2011 - 75.7 B - 9.3%
2012 - 78.4 B - 8.5%
2013 - 79.9 B - 7.9%
2014 - 74.1 B - 6.7%
2015 - 74.0 B - 5.6%
2016 - 71.0 B - 5.0%

The unemployment rate was the unemployment for the third month of the fiscal year. Couldn't find a fiscal year average.

This shows that the amount spent in 2016 was almost double that spent in 2008 for the same unemployment rate. So a 25% cut to $52 B will still be above what was spent in prior years and hopefully in the next few years the unemployment rate and GDP will be even better so those needing the assistance will be less. Hardly an assault on the poor!

So the news is that the Trump budget for food stamps is higher than traditional spending levels. Why isn't that the headline on America?

Ernest Martinson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Defense spending should be drastically decreased rather than increased by $54 billion. Catholics should beat a beeline to the bible and read, perhaps for the first time, Christ’s many admonishments to be not afraid.
Instead, Catholics and other good Government-fearing Americans are afraid of their own shadows. They are terrified of terrorism that poses minimal relative risk. Terrorism that is blowback from the much greater terrorism supported by good Government-fearing Americans.

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