Trump budget prioritises defence over social spending

He seeks 10% increase for military and $24b for Mexico border wall; tough fight expected in Congress

President Donald Trump has proposed a budget that provides for a sharp spike in defence spending, a reduction in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State Department, among others, as well as cutbacks in social spending.

It also provides US$18 billion (S$24 billion) for one of his pet projects - building the wall on the border with Mexico - and more money for Homeland Security to curb illegal immigration.

The budget was no surprise, given Mr Trump's priorities.

"We are going to have the strongest military we have ever had, by far," he said in an Oval Office appearance on Monday. "In this budget, we took care of the military like it has never been taken care of before."

Under US law, Congress controls the purse strings and lawmakers rarely enact a presidential budget, which essentially is the first opening gambit for a bargaining session.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney acknowledged as much when he told journalists that "the executive budget has always been a messaging document".

Mr Trump has allocated some US$686 billion to the Pentagon - a 10 per cent jump over the previous year - with more money set aside for an additional 25,900 troops, as well as major investments in aircraft, ships, ground systems and missile defence.


  • US$2.7t 

    Reduction in revenues over a 10-year period to 2027.

  • 87% 

    The increase in the budget deficit for 2019 in comparison to 2017's projection, at US$984 billion.

  • 41% 

    The reduction in non-defence discretionary spending caps over the coming decade.

  • 7.4%

    Increase in defence spending over the period ending 2027. However, this would leave military funding at a lower level as a share of the economy than it is today, peaking at 3.3 per cent of GDP in 2020, before declining to 2.4 per cent by 2028.

But the proposed budget, which would add US$7 trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, immediately stirred controversy on both sides of the political divide.

Changes to social programmes like food stamps for the poor - which the budget replaces with delivered boxes of only US-produced food - triggered sharp criticism, particularly from Democrats.

Senator Bernie Sanders, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, said: "This is a budget for the billionaire class, for Wall Street, for corporate CEOs, for defence contractors and for the wealthiest people in this country. It must be defeated."

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer called it "astounding", coming on the heels of a tax cut that alone could balloon the deficit. "If Americans want a picture of who President Trump works for, the combination of the tax Bill and this budget makes it crystal clear. He is for the rich and powerful at the expense of the middle class," he said.

Republican congressman Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, while welcoming some reforms in overseas development finance, protested against the proposed cuts to the State Department budget. "A strong, bipartisan coalition in Congress has already acted once to stop deep cuts to the State Department and Agency for International Development that would have undermined our national security. This year, we will act again," he said.

"Diplomacy helps keep America strong and our troops out of combat. Our country faces urgent threats from North Korea, Iran and terrorists around the world. Programmes that are vital to our national interests should be prioritised," he added.

For many, the last straw is the deficit. Ms Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said "fiscal recklessness" had been taken to a new level.The spending plan was based on estimates that the US economy would grow by 3 per cent annually for the next six years, a rate many economists described as unrealistic, even given the short-term bump from the massive tax cuts approved in December.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2018, with the headline 'Trump budget prioritises defence over social spending'. Print Edition | Subscribe