The Trump Administration’s Budget Misses the Mark


Bottom Line Up Front

  • On March 11, the Trump administration submitted a $4.7 trillion-dollar budget proposal that details its spending priorities.
  • The administration’s proposed budget prioritizes military spending, along with border security and the creation of a new ‘Space Force.’
  • The actual budget will differ substantially from the proposal, but it’s still an accurate reflection of the administration’s priorities.
  • Transportation and power infrastructure directly impacts more Americans than terrorism ever will, but receives a mere fraction of the funding and media attention.

On March 11, the Trump administration submitted its proposed budget for 2020, which demonstrates priorities largely divorced from current realities. It proposes to fund what should be the last-resort option of military capability above every other proficiency needed to prevent security challenges from devolving into conflict. This has been a constant in successive U.S. administrations, though the imbalance in funding legitimate security priorities has only grown more extreme.The $4.7 trillion proposed budget includes $750 billion for ‘national defense,’ which includes the Department of Defense as well as all other national defense and security-related projects in other departments. This is a 34% increase in the overall ‘national defense’ budget. By itself, under the current proposal, the Defense Department would receive $33.3 billion more in 2020 than in 2019, for a total annual budget of $718 billion.

Some of the increase is slated for research into artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, areas where many policymakers and technical specialists have noted that the U.S. is falling behind vis-à-vis its primary adversaries, especially China. In addition, the U.S. continues to pour money into legacy platforms such as the F-35 fighter, a program expected to cost $1.5 trillion over its projected 55-year span, even as emerging capabilities such as swarming missile and drone technology threaten to blunt most of the advantages of a manned plane that costs $90 million to produce. With the U.S. seemingly mired in low-intensity yet intractable conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan, where overwhelming military superiority has proven insufficient, the 2020 proposed budget drastically cuts diplomatic and aid funding. From its first days in office, the administration has been openly dismissive of the efforts of the Department of State (DoS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This continues in its latest proposed budget, which calls for a $12.5 billion (23%) cut in funding for these departments, from $52.5 billion to $40 billion. Congress ignored previously proposed cuts to DoS and USAID, but the constant marginalization of diplomacy at every level has ripple effects globally and attenuates morale among personnel in these organizations.

The proposed 2020 budget calls for a $3.6 billion increase in funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a 7.8% increase from $48.1 billion to $51.7 billion. Much of the proposed increase is designated for immigration-related concerns, with President Trump continually calling the current situation ‘a national emergency.’ Receiving little focus and therefore little funding is the prospect of the domestic and homegrown threat posed by Right Wing Violent Extremists (RWE). While U.S. politicians continue to stress the danger of jihadist-inspired or directed terrorism, the overwhelming percentage of terrorist attacks in the U.S. in recent years have been conducted by RWEs. That ideology, as seen in the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, is a global threat with a firm sanctuary in the U.S. A more realistic security budget would address this long-term, historical, and current ongoing threat.

One of the most immediate security threats facing the U.S. is the growing toll of an aging and neglected infrastructure combined with more frequent and devastating natural disasters. Today, historic flooding in parts of the American Midwest are destroying roads and bridges across several states. Meanwhile, the recently proposed budget calls for a $5.1 billion cut in funding for the Department of Transportation: from $26.5 billion to $24.1 billion. To put this into perspective, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the oldest engineering society in the U.S., estimated in its 2017 ‘Infrastructure Report Card’ that there was a gap between funding and needed investments of more than $2 trillion, a difference that required, at a minimum, an increase of $206 billion every year to counter the widespread adverse effects of failing and insufficient infrastructure.  Transportation and power infrastructure directly impact more Americans than terrorism ever will but receives only a mere fraction of the funding and media attention.

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