Last week, the White House released a preliminary budget proposal for 2018. The plan demonstrates adherence to a large part of President Trump’s campaign message—to make America great again through increased investment in defense—but abandons other ideas that the president frequently promoted, such as increased spending on infrastructure. In addition, many popular programs would suffer large budget cuts, while others would lose all of their funding. Overall, the budget plan prioritizes military might but sacrifices much of what makes America truly great.
In order to bolster America’s image as the country with the most expensive military in the world, the president intends to increase the Department of Defense’s budget by 9 percent. With this increase in brute strength, however, would come huge cuts in programs that contribute to American soft power, which refers to diplomatic efforts that the U.S. uses to encourage American ideals across the world. Much of American soft power is employed through the State Department, which would suffer a 29 percent cut under Trump’s plan.
Funding for programs like Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to individuals at home who are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals, would also be sacrificed for increased military spending. Meals on Wheels receives partial funding from the Community Development Block Grant program, which the budget plan cuts. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, provided a cold answer for why the White House plans to reduce funding, saying that the federal government cannot afford to fund programs that “[are] not showing any results.” Funding for Meals on Wheels represents a miniscule portion of the federal budget, and yet it is singled out for being inefficient. The Department of Defense, with its bloated 2017 budget of $587 billion, in contrast, could certainly survive budget cuts. A December 2016 report from the Washington Post found that the Pentagon covered up information about $125 billion that could have been saved over five years. Although this wasteful spending occurred under the Obama administration, the inefficiency, which was the result of unnecessary expenditures on bureaucracy, was the result of the Department of Defense doing all it could to prevent spending cuts. It could have used resources more wisely with less funding, and increased funding will only lead to greater inefficiency.
Inefficient use of resources will have real consequences for important programs that allow the U.S. to compete with other countries through technological advances. Trump’s plan cuts $6 billion in funding to the National Institutes of Health, which uses over 80 percent of its budget to sponsor research at universities and other scientific institutions. Scientists are preparing themselves for huge setbacks, and these setbacks mean America could lose its edge on the world stage. According to Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, reduced funding “would bring American biomedical science to a halt and forever shut out a generation of young scientists.”
Another important part of America’s future is its infrastructure. Despite campaign pledges to increase spending on America’s crumbling bridges and highways, Trump’s budget would eliminate a program that provides $500 million per year to rural communities to build and improve water, sewer, trash and street-drainage systems, according to the National Rural Water Association.
The president has displayed obvious disregard for concerns about the environment, claiming that global warming is not a true phenomenon and restarting work on the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. His budget also cuts funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent.
Loss of funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service would particularly hit home for St. Louis. AmeriCorps St. Louis, which has its headquarters in Soulard, employs 35 Emergency Response Team members and three VISTAS. Together, they service the community’s needs, from responding to natural disasters, to staffing a warming shelter that provides relief from extreme weather.
Trump’s plan does not invest in the future of America. Instead, the budget appears to satisfy simple, short-term wants. Building up the world’s largest military is a short term solution, and not the best one by any means. The future of America lies in the sciences, in the environment, in U.S. infrastructure and in the education of U.S. citizens. All of these aspects of what makes America great now and what will make America great far into the future would be under threat if Trump’s plan come to pass.