Trump's Proposed Slash and Burn Budget Hurts the Vulnerable Most

Posted March 22, 2017

MP3 Interview with Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs with Public Citizen, and chair of the Clean Budget Coalition, conducted by Scott Harris


President Donald Trump’s first formal budget proposal to Congress, unveiled on March 16, is one of the most extreme of any president in recent history. The White House proposal, dubbed the "America First" budget, increases defense spending by $54 billion and offsets increased funding of the military with reductions to non-defense spending, including deep cuts for education, environmental protection, health and human services and foreign aid. The proposed budget appears to follow a philosophy laid out by Trump’s chief strategist, white nationalist Steve Bannon, who declared that the new administration is in a battle to “deconstruct the administrative state.”

Trump’s budget blueprint, many parts of which have been taken directly from proposals made by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, calls for the elimination of hundreds of programs and agencies, with more than 50 within the Environmental Protection Agency alone. Programs identified for termination include public broadcasting, legal aid and the arts.

Critics charge that the budget is a blatant attack on the nation’s most vulnerable, deeply cutting programs that primarily benefit the poorest Americans, such as heating assistance, Meals on Wheels for homebound seniors and low income housing. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen, and chair of the Clean Budget Coalition. Here, she examines the negative consequences of President Trump's proposed slash and burn federal budget and the national campaign being waged to defeat it in Congress. [Rush transcript.]

LISA GILBERT: As scary as it is, the Trump budget is just a proposed budget, and the president's budget is usually kind of a wish list where they try to throw out their own ideological ideas, and in this case, his idea is it so slash and burn. So, as scary as the concept contained in this are, we have a lot of hope that Congress will push back, because even many in the GOP find this budget far too extreme, and so it's likely we'll see something exactly like this when it comes time to create the FY '18 budget. That said, it is a scary one. He dubbed it, "America First," which terrifying when you think about all the things will now be last, from protecting our environment to protecting our safety. So there are cuts across the board for what we call non-defense discretionary spending, which is just a fancy term for really everything domestic. We see cut to the EPA, the State Department, the Health and Human Service Department, the Labor Department, the Department of Housing. It covers many things that many of us hold very near and dear.

And we see big boost to the military and the building up this "Wall"; asking for $54 billion increased spending on defense.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Now I know it's been discussed widely that the Environmental Protection Agency has been targeted for some of the deepest cuts in this budget and there are proposed thousands of layoffs from the EPA, and also, their budget was going to be substantially slashed. Are there other standout agencies that are on the chopping block that you would like to mention here, just in terms of the people on the other end of those budget cuts if they went through, would (suffer in it). Thinking about children, for instance, and some of the important children's programs that we hear about. Meals on Wheels, which is an essential service for senior citizens across this country. Just mention a few of those highlights, if it would help people kind of digest what the priority list here is of the Trump folks.

LISA GILBERT: Yeah, well, I think you just mentioned some of the most bad and heartstring-tugging examples. By the numbers, the EPA has the deepest cuts, 30 percent cuts; the Department of Agriculture has a 29 percent cut, which might be surprising to some. We'll see cuts of 15 percent to Housing and Urban Development, which gets some of those things that I was mentioning earlier – affordable housing initiatives, neighborhood revitalization projects. The thing about this budget is it's very focused on measurable results. The programs that can't demonstrate that really big performance outcome are a lot of the ones that they say that they're cutting. So for example, a job training program for seniors is being cut because a set of people don't finish it, and they can't actually calculate how successful it is putting people into employment because some people don't finish the program. So, it's just sort of turning people into numbers in a way that's sad when you think about what these programs are actually for.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Now Republicans have control of both houses of Congress; the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as well as the White House, for the first time in many, many years. And it is more likely that a lot of the Trump proposed budget items may actually get through, given that they have this stranglehold on the government at the moment. And Democrats, although they oppose a lot of this budget really are not controlling any levers of power in Washington these days. Given that set of facts, how is your group, Public Citizen and the Clean Budget Coalition approaching opposition to this budget?

LISA GILBERT: Definitely. Well, we've got a tough case right now because, well, Trump's proposal was for next year, which is for fiscal year '18. We have only, at this point, certainly less than a month. The money runs out for fiscal year '17 on April 28 and so, Scott, a test to see how the GOP Congress funds the government when they could be faced with a shutdown, and the obvious case that if the government shuts down, it will be their fault; they have control of both houses. So seeing what that causes I think will be our big test case for what will happen next year with the FY '18 budget. Will they be able to resist filling the budget up with ideological policyholder riders, like trying to defund Planned Parenthood or do other inane things that they can't accomplish other ways? You know they can resist, if they can keep the budget clean, then we are more cheerful for what might happen next year, but that discipline has been unusual amongst this caucus in the past, so it remains to be seen.

And then, you know, our tax breaks are simple to explain to the American people that you know, this budget – is they're being sold a bill of goods to make sure that the Republicans feel so some accountability for supporting things that are bad and unpopular with their constituents. If they do so, I'm making it really clear that this is not what people voted for. So, whether we're talking about bad riders being attached, or we're talking about the budget itself and inadequate funding for programs, people need to understand what they're voting for.

Related Links:

Subscribe and get Between The Lines' Weekly Summary in your inbox!