Donald Trump

Trump’s first budget proposal outlines how he’ll “make America safe again” – we’re just not sure he can afford it

A $54 billion increase to military spending might end up costing Americans more than just the money

Trump is addressing Congress later today to propose his ideas for how to spend the federal budget in 2018. “This budget follows through on my promise to keep Americans safe,” Trump said. “We have to start winning wars again… we need to win or don’t fight at all. It’s a mess like you’ve never seen before.”

On that note, the big news in his proposal is to increase defense spending by 10 per cent – that’s 54 billion dollars.

No surprises there – Trump has been talking about ‘rebuilding’ America’s ‘depleted’ military throughout his campaign. The US has by far the biggest defence budget in the world – $300 billion ahead of the next contender, China – but Trump is convinced it’s not enough. (At the same time though, he wants the US to get out of the Middle East, and focus its energy on the domestic economy. We’re not totally sure how that adds up.)

Bob Work, the deputy secretary of defense (who serves under the national security adviser, General McMaster... are we seeing an emerging rationale of efficient names = efficient staff..?), agrees that not even $54 billion will do the trick – he feels they’ll need about $107 billion in total to bring the American military to where it needs to be.

General McMaster and Bob Work
Is Trump picking his security staff based on how well their names fit together..?! Because it's working.

Where’s the money going to come from?

Trump says he’s going to “do more with less”, taking money from inefficient parts of the government budget and putting them towards the military to make government spending “lean and accountable” – in other words, lower it, and make it easier to see results.

Sounds good in theory – except that’s going to be pretty much impossible without cutting a lot of government budget lines down to zero. Right now, most of America’s money is spent on social security ($910 billion), Medicare ($588 billion), and the military ($544 billion). The other budgets are only a few billion, or even million, dollars – arts, environmental protection, foreign aid, and so on.

In a way, America is facing a choice of – whether the opportunity of a stronger military is worth the price of so much else. Then again, Trump seems convinced he can cut spending without sacrificing output – creating a more ‘efficient’ government.

But this Washington Post’s ‘create your own budget cuts’ tool sums up the challenge pretty clearly – try finding $54 billion without cutting other budget lines completely.

Is Trump’s word the last word?

If Obama’s administration is anything to go by, the president’s budget proposal doesn’t mean much in terms of what the final budget actually looks like.

Presidents don’t make these choices on their own. 60 people in the Senate (including eight Democrats) would need to vote for it, and then Congress too. Now’s the time, then, for Americans to be telling their local reps what budget cuts they’d be okay with – and which they wouldn’t be.

When Obama tried to propose a budget, going so far as to give estimates of how much each proposal would cost or raise, and how it would affect the country’s – the amount it owes above what it earns – Congress said no, and that was pretty much that.

But Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, seems set to get Trump’s proposals through: “We are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars,” he said.

What next?

After Trump’s speech today, a so-called “skinny budget” will be released on 13 March giving a bit more detail on how his proposals would actually work, with a full one coming out by the early April. The whole thing goes to Congress for debate in May.

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