by Michael Sean Winters
In a federal budget document, the words "social justice" do not appear. In fact, the most basic terms by which we discuss morality, "right" and "wrong," do not appear either. Yet, a government's budget is a profoundly moral document, containing as it must the priorities being put forward on behalf of we the people, evidencing the values we are trying to advance and what common efforts we think are worth funding.
The Trump administration's budget proposal is profoundly immoral.
The dominant fact of the budget is that the White House wants to vastly increase military spending and to achieve that goal it is calling for cuts of equal size in the rest of the budget. Pentagon budgets have been on a bit of a roller coaster in the past fifty years. After declining in the 1970s from Vietnam-era levels, Ronald Reagan increased military spending in the 1980s when it reached 6.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product. It came down throughout the 1990s after the Communist empire collapsed. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, spending rose again reaching 5.7 percent in 2011, after which it has declined steadily due in large part to the government sequester legislation passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Barack Obama.
The United States spends vastly more on its military than any other country. In fact, we spend more on the military than the next seven countries combined. We are not currently engaged in a major ground war. Certain weapons systems need updating, to be sure, and there are always cost savings to be had if you shake the Pentagon procurement tree. Adding $54 billion in defense spending makes no sense, it meets no need except Trump’s rhetorical complaint during the campaign that Obama had hollowed out the military. That claim, like so many others, was false. There is a deeper discussion about the morality of military spending, to be sure. I am probably more hawkish than most of my colleagues here at NCR. I am not opposed to maintaining a robust military posture, but sanity demands that we recognize we probably spend too much, not too little, on the military already.
To afford this windfall, President Trump has taken aim at a variety of programs, some more worthy of maintenance than others. Anyone genuinely concerned about U.S. leadership in the world would recognize the foolishness of cutting the State Department budget by 29 percent. Mr. Trump should especially understand the value of soft power: During the campaign, we were repeatedly told by political experts that he lacked the organization to win certain states, but he knew that his Twitter account was more powerful than a slew of field offices. The U.S., to say nothing of the world, gets its return on the dollar for every dime spent on public diplomacy.
I shall offer one controversial observation here: I almost hope they really do eliminate all foreign aid. For years, Americans have been fed a lie by conservative populist politicians who complain about the amount of money the nation dedicates to foreign aid. In 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a survey that asked people how much they thought we spent and the average of the guesses was 26 percent. The actual figure is about 1 percent, and that money is divided about equally between security assistance and humanitarian and economic aid. So, let's get rid of it all for a couple of years and take away the big lie for good. Of course, I can't really mean that because that pittance we spend is critical in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases, keeps the Peace Corps up and running, and helps a variety of anti-poverty programs that save people's lives at very little expense.
The cuts to the Department of Labor are equally troubling: The Trump budgets plans to cut their budget by a total of 21 percent, and the programs they are targeting are especially important. "Even a cursory review of which Department of Labor programs the Administration intends to cut or eliminate shows its true intentions to sell out the nation's working people to the same old special interest parasites that have been feasting on the fruits of labor for decades," said Laura Barrett, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice in a statement. "Proposed cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — the agency charged with ensuring workplaces are in compliance with safety regulations — are particularly galling." Galling and a bit surprising. Does Mr. Trump think that all those blue collar voters who went to the polls for him want to work in an unsafe environment? Does he think they have the wherewithal to fight lawsuits on their own behalf without the benefit of unions his Republican friends are trying to kneecap or the Department of Labor and its oversight capacity?
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