6 Things Consumers Should Know About The White House’s Proposed ‘Skinny’ Budget

Image courtesy of Chris Wilson

The Trump White House has released its first big-picture public proposal on federal spending for 2018. This initial pass — the so-called “skinny” budget — is basically an outline that doesn’t get into the finer details. However, the changes that are described in the document are nonetheless wide-sweeping, recommending significant cuts or culling of a number of programs you may currently take for granted.

If you’re interested in all the details, the Washington Post has an incredibly deep, user-friendly landing page full of graphs, comparison data, and links to separate articles about every category of agency and program that is facing notable changes in either direction.

For a consumer-friendly TL;DR, read on.

1. The biggest winner: military spending.
The outline is full of good news for the Department of Defense and, likely, a legion of Defense contractors. Trump’s budget proposes increasing the total defense spend to $639 billion, an increase of $52 billion over where it currently sits.

Homeland Security would also see a 7% increase in funding, and the Department of Veterans Affairs would receive a 6% boost. A large amount of all that money is set aside specifically for immigration enforcement, increased deportations, and the infamous border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

2. A big loser: the EPA and climate change and protection programs.
This budget proposes slashing the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency by $2.5 billion, or 31%. As a result, the agency would lose a solid 20% of its workforce and 50 of its programs. The Atlantic reports that this is the lowest level of funding proposed for the EPA since before President Reagan’s first budget for fiscal year 1982.

The Department of Energy would also see a cut — $1.7 billion, or about 6% — to several programs, with funding reallocated to nuclear weaponry and nuclear waste storage. The Office of Science would lose nearly a fifth of its budget.

Among the programs proposed for the scrap heap, between the two agencies, are the Clean Power Plan, which establishes a nationwide limit on carbon pollution from power plants; the Energy Star program, which helps consumers identify the most energy-efficient appliances for their homes; and the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides grants to improve energy efficiency in low-income families’ homes.

Significant reductions proposed for the State Department also would eliminate climate-change prevention programs, including cancelling pledged payments to U.N. and USAID programs.

And finally, while NASA actually gets to keep 99% of its money, that 1% cut comes largely at the expense of programs that observe the Earth to record and educate on climate change.

3. It’s not great for public health — or your health.
Entirely aside from the health insurance reform battle raging on the Hill, the budget proposes significant cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services — including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — and to the Department of Agriculture, home of the FDA.

The CDC is poised to lose $1 billion of its core $7 billion budget if the current health care reform plan goes through in Congress. The current repeal bill cuts all support to the Prevention and Public Health Fund, the primary function of which is to provide support and resources to underfunded state and local health departments. The White House budget does not specify a replacement source of funds for that cut. Additionally, the budget calls for $500 million in block grants to the states to do their own things for public health, which would likely come straight out of the CDC budget.

The 19% cut to the NIH budget, meanwhile, would kill off a center devoted to connecting U.S.-based health research institutions with global counterparts, and would be a huge hit to scientific and medical research grants.

The proposed cuts at Agriculture are also enormous, slashing $4.7 billion — about 21% — from the agency’s funds. However, the proposal is vague on what, specifically, the USDA should slice and dice in order to make that happen. The “discretionary” spending the budget proposes cutting, however, does include food safety programs — and just from the number of times we’ve seen recalls for listeria and E. coli in the food supply in the past year, cutting back on those programs would probably not have a positive effect for those of us who need to, you know, eat food to live.

4. Planes, trains, and automobiles…
The Department of Transportation is slated for a 13% budget cut in this 2018 proposal.

Among the cuts would be a plan to privatize air traffic control at all the nation’s airports, taking it away from the FAA and putting in the hands of “an independent, non-governmental organization.”

The cuts would also end federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance routes, instead only providing funding for the Northeast Corridor and associated services.

And finally, the budget proposal also cuts funding from the “New Starts” investment program as well as from TIGER grants, both of which provide grants that states and localities can use to help build out mass transit and road infrastructure projects.

5. The budget proposes eliminating another 19 agencies altogether.
That list includes some that are well-known nationally (everyone who watched Sesame Street in the last 40 years has heard of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), and some that fly a lot more under the radar, or serve a narrower niche than others. It’s a particularly devastating cut to arts and cultural agencies. According to the WaPo, the elimination list includes:

  • African Development Foundation
  • Appalachian Regional Commission
  • Chemical Safety Board
  • Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Delta Regional Authority
  • Denali Commission
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services
  • Inter-American Foundation
  • U.S. Trade and Development Agency
  • Legal Services Corporation
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation
  • Northern Border Regional Commission
  • Overseas Private Investment Corporation
  • U.S. Institute of Peace
  • U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

There are also big cuts proposed at other top-level agencies, including the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (13%), Education (14%) and Labor (21%).

6. This is in no way the final budget. In fact, it’s probably not even close.
Basically, any White House’s proposed budget is more of a wish list than an actual set of law. It tells you what the Administration’s priorities are, but not where the money is actually going to go.

For one thing, the proposal released today was just the short version — that’s why it’s called the “skinny” budget. The “fat” budget, with the full detailed proposals, isn’t due out until May.

For another thing, Congress can basically ignore as much of it as they want to, up to and including “the whole thing.” In 2016, for example, Congress completely ignored the entire 2017 budget proposed by the Obama Administration.

To say that Congress is currently sharply politically divided is a, “water is moist” level of understatement. What will happen with the 2018 budget in Congress is, at this point, anyone’s guess.

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