After much anticipation, President Trump has released his 2018 budget proposal, and there’s a clear takeaway: He’s calling for a shocking transformation of the way the US conducts foreign policy around the world.
On a big-picture, departmental level, Trump is calling for more funding for national security and defense and massive cuts to virtually other institution tied to how the US engages with the international community. One of the most drastic proposals in the document is the call for the State Department to have its budget cut by almost a third. It also calls for billions to be spent on building a wall along the US-Mexican border, seeming to drop Trump’s campaign rhetoric about getting Mexico to pay for it.
Much of what Trump is proposing will never make it into law. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most hawkish members of the Senate, said in the runup to the release of the budget that huge cuts to State Department funding meant it was “dead on arrival” in Congress. And indeed, lawmakers across the political spectrum will take issue with, and push back against, much of the initial specifics of how Trump plans to make America great again.
But the budget will still help set the terms of the debate on what kind of funding various parts of the government should receive next year. It also provides valuable insight into the Trump administration’s worldview, offering the most concrete and detailed outline of its foreign policy priorities to date. Here’s a quick rundown of the biggest winners and losers among the programs that can be gleaned from the budget proposal.
Remember how Trump repeatedly promised he was going to make Mexico pay for the wall? Well, apparently he doesn’t. Under what’s called a supplemental request, he’s calling for $3 billion to be spent this fiscal year to, among other things, begin designing and building a wall along the US-Mexico border, provide more funding for deportations and jails, and hiring more immigration enforcement agents. Then for the 2018 fiscal year he calls for another $4.5 billion to be spent on the wall, border security technology, jails, agents, and more.
Altogether, that’s $7.5 billion to crack down on the flow of undocumented immigrants. That number, which includes plenty of non-wall-related spending, doesn’t even come close to the $21 billion the Department of Homeland security has estimated is required to build Trump’s promised wall.
In Trump’s eyes, he still has options to pursue for making Mexico effectively pay for the wall. There’s still a possibility that he could impose tariffs, or border taxes on incoming Mexican goods, to argue that he’s using revenue from Mexico to foot the bill, although that would be a violation of NAFTA and is also something Mexico is sure to oppose during upcoming renegotiation discussions.
There’s also the possibility that he could back a border adjustment tax in the House Republicans’ tax reform bill that would tax Mexican goods being sold in the US, but that policy would apply to all foreign goods, not just Mexican-made ones, and it may cause an uptick in the value of the dollar that would offset the effect of that tax. For now, looks like the US will be handling the bill.
The budget allocates $3.1 billion for security assistance to Israel. That amount is in line with aid to Israel under the Obama administration, but it’s striking because the proposal generally argues for “deep cuts” to foreign aid. In the runup to the budget proposal, the White House instructed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to leave funding for Israel untouched. It’s a sign that even as Trump attempts to withdraw from all kinds of international commitments that the US has around the world, it still holds the US-Israeli alliance in high regard, and considers it to be strategically crucial for pursuing its geopolitical interests. It also throws a bone to Capitol Hill, where lawmakers from both parties would be certain to fight any attempt to cut back US aid to the Jewish state.
Winner: US efforts to fight AIDS overseas
Despite the fact that the budget proposes steep cuts to a number of health-related programs, the “President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program, or PEPFAR, appears to have been spared. PEPFAR, the US’s program to fight AIDS around the world and the most generous commitment of any country in the world to a single disease, seems to retain the funding it had under the Obama administration.
“While this language [in the budget blueprint] isn't that clear about amounts, it implies that current commitments will be maintained,” Jennifer Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told my colleague Julia Belluz. The continuation of the program, which was launched by George W. Bush in 2003 and provides lifesaving treatment for 11.5 million people, is a big win for the HIV/AIDS community.
Winner: the Pentagon
The Trump administration is proposing $639 billion for defense spending, $52 billion more than last year. That’s significant, but not quite as dramatic as Trump promised on the campaign trail.
There are few specifics on which programs would end up with what kind of money, but here’s what we know. The Navy would have more ships added to its fleet, the Air Force would get more of the costly and controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (see a snazzy Vox video about the program here), and the Army would get new weapons and more troops.
All this is also good news for defense contractors, who will have plenty of extra business manufacturing defense equipment if spending does in fact increase.
One striking detail: The administration claims these increased resources are for the development for a stronger military, and not in preparation for war. That being said, the Trump administration has been looking to accelerate the fight against ISIS, and has been considering putting more boots on the ground in the Middle East toward that end. The budget request doesn’t estimate how much that would cost.
Loser: polar bears
The budget proposal eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative, a $350 million program administered by USAID, the State Department and the Treasury Department, that’s responsible for incorporating climate change–related issues into the way it provides assistance to foreign countries. It helps other nations invest in renewable energy and deal with carbon emissions increases that come from deforestation and land degradation.
The budget also cuts off funding for the United Nations’ climate change programs by eliminating US funding for the Green Climate Fund and its precursor Climate Investment Funds. The Obama administration had given the UN $1 billion of the $3 billion the US pledged before leaving office.
Loser: the United Nations
The budget proposes decreasing overall funding for the UN and affiliated agencies, although it doesn’t specify by how much. It does specify that it will cap its contributions to UN peacekeeping costs at 25 percent, which would be a decline from its current contribution of 28 percent of the roughly $8 billion peacekeeping budget. Most UN peacekeepers are based in Africa, and are currently enduring scores of fatalities in Mali.
The UN has a vast array of responsibilities around the world, which include humanitarian assistance, helping uphold international legal norms, playing a role of peacebroker and peacekeeper in conflicts around the world, and promoting nuclear nonproliferation through the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Trump administration’s goal is to force other countries to pay more of the shared costs of the UN, but that’s going to require a great deal of quick action by other less affluent countries; if US funding dries up it’s likely that many programs at the UN will simply grow weaker or vanish.
Loser: the World Bank
The budget would ax funding for multilateral development banks — including the World Bank, where the US is currently the top donor and most powerful player. The organization is the most prominent international agency devoted to providing financial and technical support to developing countries through loans and investments.
The budget proposes reducing funding by $650 million over three years, which it says will allow it to “retain its current status as a top donor.” The key part of that sentence is “a top donor,” as compared to “the top donor.” That could mean a major change for the bank. The US, since the bank’s inception, has been able to put an American into the top slot there. If American contributions shrink, other top contributors could push to push to end the tradition and give the post to officials from other countries.
Loser: the world’s poorest
The Trump budget says it will refocus economic and development assistance to “countries of greatest strategic importance to the US,” implicitly saying it won’t necessarily be guided by greatest humanitarian need. It also says it will focus humanitarian assistance on “highest priority areas while asking the rest of the world to pay their fair share.”
The language is vague, but the general sentiment is clear: The administration wants to pull back from providing funds to organizations and initiatives that provide services to the most vulnerable populations in the world.