President Donald Trump released his first budget proposal March 16, calling for the largest cuts to the federal government since the drawdown after World War II.
Trump calls for about 30 percent budget cuts at the State Department, the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Department of Labor and Health and Human Services face near 20 percent reduction.
In addition to reductions, the proposal outright eliminates hundreds of programs, particularly those aimed at helping the poor and elderly, but also space exploration, clean air and water, science research and foreign aid.
The bill does increase spending in some areas. The Pentagon will receive an additional $54 billion and the proposal makes a $3 to $4 billion down payment on construction of the southern border wall, which Trump promised Mexico would pay for during the campaign.
“There are people who voted for President Trump because of the promises he made. They believed him when he said he wasn’t a politician, but a straight shooter who would use his knowledge in business to serve working families,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “This must be very disappointing to his supporters who were hoping he’d put America back to work.”
Particularly galling, Stephenson said, was the absence of the $1 trillion infrastructure plan candidate Trump called for often during the campaign.
In its place: $2 billion in cuts to the Department of Transportation. The largest single victim is the $500 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program. TIGER grants, which fund multi-jurisdictional projects, are a popular funding tool among cities and states; Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao expressed support for them during her confirmation hearing.
The only construction-specific increase was for a $4 million increase to the Environmental Protection Agency’s State Revolving Funds that can be used for infrastructure projects.
Presidential budget proposals are rarely if ever adopted wholesale by the Congress. The Constitution gives the House of Representatives, not the executive branch, the responsibility for creating a budget and whatever is ultimately passed will go through many changes before the final vote. But, says IBEW Political and Legislative Department Director Austin Keyser, it is an important moral document that shows what President Trump would do in his ideal world, one without Congress.
“If there was any doubt left about who President Trump was looking out for, this proposal should remove it,” Keyser said. “If you set out to design a budget that made the lives of working people worse, it wouldn’t look very different from this.”
The 62-page plan, if signed into law, would result in thousands of job losses in the federal workforce, which includes nearly 40,000 IBEW members.
“For our shipyard workers, there is some good news in the expansion of the Navy’s ship procurement program, but for the rest, it is terrible,” said Government Employees Department Director Dennis Phelps.
Phelps said non-shipyard federal workers and contractors provide valuable frontline services to the American people, including the many IBEW members at the Army Corps of Engineers, operating and maintaining the nation’s locks and dams, which have fallen far behind on maintenance because of recent budget cuts.
“This will harm our members, but it also puts members of the public at risk. When dams fail, when locks fail, livelihoods and sometimes lives are lost,” Phelps said.
When asked about the job losses at the release of the budget proposal, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. “You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it.”
That attitude angers Phelps.
“That tells you everything you need to know about these people. They don’t give a damn about you,” Phelps said. “Our members produce for the American public. We keep you safe. We keep you defended. We keep goods moving across the country and the world and we keep the lights on. They have earned better than that.”
Trump’s budget aims to shrink the Department of Labor budget by 21 percent. Some of these cuts would come from job training programs. It also calls for eliminating grants for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In some cases, a cut at the federal level can’t be replicated in states or locally. For example, few states have the manpower or expertise to replace Obama-era Labor Department policies that targeted employers that misclassify workers or steal their wages.
The Trump budget will also eliminate programs that helps low-income Americans and supports the utilities where more than 220,000 IBEW members work. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and grants for rural water projects provide crucial assistance for some of the most vulnerable Americans and are eliminated under Trump’s plan.
The budget also proposes cuts to or elimination of construction-related programs that deal with affordable housing, weatherizing homes, banking and legal aid.
The White House budget cuts would fall hardest on the rural and small town communities that Trump won, reported the Washington Post, areas where one in three people are living paycheck to paycheck.
Individual states are also in a poor position to replace the elimination of federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance train lines, some of which run from coast-to-coast.
“It is disgusting. It is shattering,” said IBEW Railroad Department Director William Bohne.
There are 1,200 IBEW members at Amtrak, and up to a third work on equipment for the long-distance trains, coaches and engines, Bohne said.
Bohne said every other country in the world supports its long-distance passenger train system and he is skeptical that the president will find support for his cuts in Congress.
“It is a good service and a good value for the money and doing what the president is proposing would destroy it,” Bohne said. “Congress will never let it happen.”
After seeing the proposal, most political observers agreed with Bohne’s assessment that nothing like the president’s budget will ultimately pass.
“The budget abandons the future,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Working people in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin didn’t vote for a budget that slashes, will make workplaces less safe, put more children at risk and make improving our failing infrastructure much more difficult.”
Democratic congressional leaders have been uniformly opposed it, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York saying it “takes a meat ax” to programs that improve the lives of working people.
Republican lawmakers began objecting to specific sections of the proposal Thursday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Talking Points Memo that cutting funding for diplomatic envoys, global health initiatives and other State Department programs "makes us less safe, puts our diplomats at risk, and destroys soft power. You need soft power to win the war."
The proposal is what is known as the “skinny budget” in Washington. It is limited to the parts of the federal budget that can be changed each year, also known as discretionary spending. It excludes entitlements, like Medicare and Social Security, and servicing the $20 trillion national debt, which together, make up nearly 75 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget.
The proposal did not explain how the deficit will not skyrocket due to the $600 billion tax cut in the American Health Care Act and the additional $500 billion tax cut he is expected to propose this summer.
The full budget, including economic and tax projections, is expected in May, with the goal for Congress to adopt a plan before the new fiscal year that begins at the end of September.