Trump’s budget priorities mean cutting almost everything the government does

Bryce Covert

Bryce Covert Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

On Tuesday night, President Trump will speak before Congress about his legislative priorities. One he’s bound to mention is his upcoming budget outline, which will lay out where he wants to cut and increase government spending. He’s already described some of the things he wants to do in his budget: increase defense spending by $54 billion, while leaving Social Security and Medicare as is.

If he were to actually follow through on everything he says he wants to do, it would basically mean that the Department of Defense and entitlement programs would be the only things left in the government.

On Monday, Trump’s team said it would call for an equal decrease in the pot of government funding known as non-defense discretionary spending to make up for the increase in military spending.

Non-defense discretionary spending is a catch-all phrase for a huge number of government functions. The money funds educational programs like Head Start, Pell Grants, and K-12 services; core government duties like law enforcement and collecting taxes through the IRS; health and scientific research; nutrition, rent, child care, and home heating assistance for low-income people; public safety through the CDC and FDA; infrastructure like the National Highway System and air traffic control; environmental programs through the EPA; and the protection and preservation of national parks.

According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a $54 billion cut would drop spending for these programs — minus the Veterans Administration, for which Congress already passed increased funding — 15 percent below their current level.

But the cuts would actually end up being deeper if they come on top of spending caps Congress mandated in 2011 that are set to take effect in 2018 after two years of putting them off. To even get his increase in defense spending, Trump would have to convince Congress to undo the cap mandated by law under sequestration.

Sequestration means that non-defense discretionary spending in 2018 is scheduled to be 16 percent lower than what it was in 2010, adjusted for inflation. If it’s cut by another $54 billion, that would drop spending a full quarter below what it used to be.

That would bring spending on these programs to the lowest level ever recorded. The current low point was 3.09 percent of GDP in 1962; Trump’s cuts would bring it below 3 percent.

In an interview with Fox on Tuesday morning, Trump argued that his increase in defense spending could be covered not by severe spending cuts elsewhere, but by an increase in economic growth. “I think the money is going to come from a revved up economy,” he said, promising to grow GDP to 3 percent or more a year.

It’s unlikely he can achieve significantly higher growth, however. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the economy will grow at 2.1 percent this year, and while there may be some slack in the economy that leaves room for more with all the right policies, there probably isn’t a whole lot.

A president doesn’t have to balance the budget, and Trump could just call for an increase in defense spending, a huge tax cut, a ramp up in infrastructure spending, mass deportations, and money to build a border wall without paying for it. But he repeatedly promised on the campaign trail that he would balance the budget.

Doing so, while also sticking to his pledge to leave Social Security and Medicare alone — two of the biggest drivers in government spending — would basically require cutting everything else that the government does. According to a calculation by Senate Budget Committee staffer Robert Kogan, it would mean a 93 percent cut from where things stand now within 10 years.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media. Follow her on Twitter @brycecovert

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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