In December, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights visited the U.S., including L.A., with its 55,000 homeless; the Deep and not-so-Deep South; and Puerto Rico. He found that although arguably the richest and most powerful country on earth, the U.S. has the highest infant mortality and is close to the bottom in healthcare, inequality, access to water and sanitation, and child and youth poverty among industrialized countries.
These realities put into context Pres. Trump’s February 12 budget proposal, as just part of a long-term trend destroying the social safety net. This 1,988-page tome in four parts reflects ruling class priorities of further chopping services for people and the environment, increasing funding for an already bloated military, and expanding a “fortress Americana” of anti-immigrant fences, prisons and technology.
This proposal to Congress, which controls spending, is another episode in a convoluted drama that aims to confuse. The media skips from episode to episode, keeping everyone distracted and exasperated with every little dust up, while incremental cuts to human services, education and the environment proceed year after year.
Trump’s cruel budget. This year’s budget proposal is a warmed-over version of last year’s, with similar reductions and increases.
The biggest winner is the Department of Defense with more than $700 billion in 2019 alone. The air, land and sea nuclear arsenals get a $24 billion increase. This part of the budget was passed by Congress on Feb. 9, several days before the president’s budget was officially released.
In Trump’s wish list, Homeland Security would get a $5.5 billion increase. This would include the border wall, surveillance technology, more agents and immigrant detention facilities. Then there’s the additional $2 billion for the Secret Service to protect Trump on his regular weekends at Mar-a-Lago resort.
Every agency that is tasked with serving human needs would be cut. Health and Human Services by 21 percent and Education by 10.5 percent. Even a much touted $5 billion expenditure over five years to combat the opioid epidemic is a pittance of what’s needed, according to advocates. This crisis is killing over 60,000 people a year, with the most severe impact to communities of color.
To make matters worse, Trump’s budget doesn’t consider the $300 billion in congressional spending increases that he approved three days before releasing his budget. It also grossly underplays the impact of the $1.5 trillion tax cut at the end of 2017, by assuming consistent year over year growth rates that the U.S. economy hasn’t experienced in decades and is unlikely to ever achieve again.
Congress’ bipartisan “magic.” What about Congress’ February 9 spending bill? This is actual money, some of which covers two years and some only keeps the government operating until March 23. It finally provides $90 billion for disaster relief following the string of hurricanes and wildfires last year. It raises budget ceilings (known as “sequestration”) for the next two fiscal years, removing limits on domestic programs that would otherwise face automatic cuts. But 60 percent of this money went to the military. Combined with additional “emergency” funding tagged for “overseas contingency operations” (read more warfare) it gave the generals $700 billion in 2018.
Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis crowed that this bill put the United States back in a “position of primacy.” Ironic, considering that the U.S. already holds a long-standing record for spending more on the military than the next seven nations combined.
This bipartisan agreement was preceded by much political theater. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged an eight-hour delay in the vote, publicly urging House Democrats to oppose the bill over the plight of immigrant youth protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Privately, however, she encouraged voting for it. Republican Sen. Rand Paul also mounted a delaying speech that triggered a five-hour government shutdown. Supposedly protesting higher deficits, Paul ignored the fact that he voted in December for the massive $1.5 trillion tax cut which will cause these deficits. He wanted to strip social spending immediately.
In the end, it was a thoroughly bipartisan vote with strong support from both sides of the aisle.
Magic or treachery? Nevertheless, after all this drama, Congress still needs to pass an “omnibus” spending bill at the end of March to avoid another shutdown. This is a consolidated package of money for all the programs that rely on yearly appropriations. Congress has been extending the 2017 omnibus bill with continuing resolutions, and that part of the February 9 deal expires on March 23.
On the surface, it seems that some good came from this bill: disaster relief, funding for opioid treatment, and short-term spending for poor people and infrastructure, despite the giant increases to the military. The spending is similar to previous years. The difference is that Congress passed the huge tax cut in 2017, primarily for the rich and corporations, and that greatly reduces government income. Some analysts estimate the budget deficit will grow by $7 trillion over 10 years.
But there is good and harmful spending. Social spending builds the economy, because working people spend the money they receive. But non-productive military spending only adds to the national debt and leads to inflation.
The annual cost to service the U.S. debt is over $450 billion and will rise dramatically. You can bet that when push comes to shove, programs for people will be squeezed as this number grows, while military programs and low taxes for the rich will be protected. The ultimate target is major entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.
This is all according to the playbook of the Koch brothers and their secretive club of robber barons. They have been working for years to undermine workers’ standard of living and declaw their organizations. Big money has funded takeovers of state and federal legislatures, extreme redistricting and voter suppression campaigns, and now, stacking the courts. Their agenda is fully backed by the twin parties of capital.
Clearly, workers need a party of our own that will fight for full funding for human health, housing, education and environmental protection. A labor party could shut down the 1000 military bases abroad and retrain soldiers to do the essential work of rebuilding our infrastructure and developing clean energy and mass transit. What are we waiting for?
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