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Leon Kaye headshot

Trump Budget Swings Heavy Hammer at Federal Agencies

By Leon Kaye

As more information about the Donald Trump administration’s budget -- and proposed cuts to a swath of agencies in order to bolster military spending -- hit the newswires, it is clear environmental protection and climate change mitigation are not the only targets.

Trump’s proposed cuts also include programs ranging from Meals on Wheels to cancer research. But describing this list of cuts as simply “in addition to” does not quite tell the story. The reality is that the challenges presented by climate volatility, environmental justice and public health are all intertwined.

Take the proposed cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Much of that ax would fall on the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency that over the years has benefited from considerable bipartisan support. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the White House’s “skinny budget,” which seeks to stamp out non-defense discretionary spending, would slash NIH funding by $5.8 billion next fiscal year.

Other agencies that fall under the HHS umbrella, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), would see funds diverted to block grants that would be distributed to individual state governments.

Both organizations have focused on climate change and its relationship to public health. The NIH still describes climate change as a “a critical health problem,” while the CDC linkes a bevy of health problems to the the world’s evolving climate.

NGOs focused on public health and disease have responded to Trump’s budget with alarm. Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a public statement:

“NDD programs – including critical public health programs at EPA and the CDC – have been subject to repeated cuts over the past six years, including through the appropriations caps and sequestration process established by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

"The cuts proposed in this 'skinny budget' will starve our nation's biomedical research and public health infrastructure. While the blueprint released by the President is short on details, it clearly threatens the lung health of our nation. Congress must reject this budget and start anew with a balanced approach that protects vital health programs in HHS and at EPA.”

Environmental NGOs have also been quick to point out the links between environmental protection, public health and national security.

“The latest budget continues the administration’s shocking disregard for priorities that are critical for people’s health and the economy,” Manish Bapna of the World Resources Institute told TriplePundit in an email. “The U.S. government must have the resources to protect air, water and people’s health at home [and] have the tools to advance U.S. diplomatic and strategic interests overseas.”

Also on the chopping block is foreign aid, on which less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget is spent year to year.

Along with diplomacy and military might, national security experts have long argued that foreign aid is another tool in the U.S. government’s kit to guarantee safety here and abroad. Some of those funds are dispersed to organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and programs that address climate change and public health are included in their mandates. But as the New York Times reported, the World Bank will see its U.S. contribution slashed by $650 million. The Trump White House says it wants those line items “refocused” on nations of “strategic importance” to the U.S.

Justin Sink and Erik Wasson of Bloomberg argued that the Trump budget plan is based more on a personal vendetta than a thoughtful outlook on domestic and foreign policy, pointing out that Trump “derided” many of those agencies and programs during his campaign.

Also hit hard, not surprisingly, will be the State Department’s budget, which in recent years expanded to include programs related to public health, particularly HIV/AIDS funding, as well as other programs and offices linked to climate change. Foggy Bottom could see its funding crater by 28 percent. In an email to employees, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said such cuts are necessary to make way for the administration’s “unmistakable restatement” of the country’s new priorities.

After 70 years as “leader of the free world,” this budget reflects a massive shift in America’s priorities.

Where many critics of this country see a military and diplomatic bully, others have always seen the U.S. as the adult in the room, which in this case is Planet Earth. Even during the George W. Bush administration and the controversy over two wars overseas, the younger Bush created his fair share of goodwill with his presidency’s global battle to fight AIDS and his work on women’s empowerment, both of which have continued in various forms after his presidency.

But times are changing, and that worries some of the world’s foremost organization that focus on the global poor.

“This budget is a narrow-minded and small-hearted reimagining of America’s role in the world,” Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, told 3p in an email.

“Since the Second World War, presidents of both major parties advanced U.S. interests by working to strengthen international security, end global poverty, and deepen diplomatic and cultural ties with people around the world. That tradition has bolstered American leadership in the world, but it would come to an abrupt end if Congress follows the Trump administration’s callous blueprint.”

Image credit: NIH/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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