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By Preston Chaffee
In March, President Donald Trump unveiled his “America First” budget, which promised to “shrink the role of government” by eliminating waste, duplicative programs and cutting funding at varying levels for about thirty different agencies. It promised to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (NPR and PBS) as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. The State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency also were to face huge digit cuts. The budget also included a request for funds to start building President Trump’s border wall, increase military spending by $54 billion and increase funding to the Department of Homeland Security. Conservatives cheered. Liberals howled. Libertarians cheered and howled.
Congress has just sent President Trump a very different budget. The bipartisan deal funds the government through the end of the fiscal year (September 30th) and largely ignores President Trump’s “America First” budget. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly.
- No money was set aside for President Trump’s wall. Although the bill set aside $1.5 billion for border security infrastructure, this money will mainly be spent on technology upgrades for ICE, not a President Trump’s border wall. The White House has claimed that several hundred million dollars will be spent on a border wall, but later clarified that this would only include repairing parts of the existing border fence. President Trump’s border wall is sure to be a taxpayer funded boondoggle, with a questionable impact on the flow of illegal immigrants, but for now it looks like Congress has other priorities.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised to crack down on marijuana enforcement, but this budget includes a provision historically known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which allows states to determine their own medical marijuana policies. Although this provision is not in and of itself rare, it is a good sign that Congress doesn’t plan to fund Mr. Sessions war on marijuana for now.
- Funding to United Nations Agencies, such as the Human Rights Council (which counts Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Rwanda and China as members), was cut by $640,000,000 from current levels.
- Security for Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago will cost American taxpayers $84,000,000 through September. Trump Tower alone will cost $23,000,000 to secure and $61,000,000 will be reimbursed to the NYPD and West Palm Beach Police Departments for protecting Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago. The security for Trump Tower stems from Mrs. Trump and the first son, Barron, remaining in Manhattan vice moving into the White House.
- Nearly every Federal agency will see their budgets remain at current funding levels, or increase. Even the Denali Commission, whose auditor recommended the commission be disbanded in 2013, will likely receive an appropriation. The lone exception seems to be the EPA, which will see a 1% budget decrease.
- California’s Not-So-High-Speed Rail Project will receive a $100,000,000 appropriation. Based on a per kilometer cost of $56,000,000 (more than double the costs of high speed rail projects in China or Europe) this appropriation will expand this taxpayer boondoggle by another 2 kilometers
No real cuts were made. The bill represents a $63 billion increase in Federal spending from last year. Despite President Trump’s aggressive budget proposal, which included a 10% reduction in non-defense discretionary spending, and a Republican House and Senate, a fiscally responsible budget remains elusive. With the White House set to introduce a $1 trillion infrastructure plan next month, there is little reason to think the role of the Federal government will be “shrinking” anytime soon.