In many ways, President Donald Trump’s budget stays true to his governing promises—to build up the military, cut back on the regulatory state, and boost homeland security. But not in every way.
Yes, it increases defense spending by $54 billion, with equal cuts to domestic programs. The Department of Agriculture faces a 21 percent cut. For Commerce, it’s 16 percent. The budget cuts funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by nearly a third. It also eliminates more than a dozen agencies.
For all the attention on those cuts, however, they aren’t particularly surprising. Two of the lead authors of the budget, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and Paul Winfree, the White House’s director of budget policy, have long supported major cuts to domestic programs; Winfree was the main author of a Heritage Foundation budget that is widely considered to have influenced Trump’s plan. Eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or cutting $650 million over three years from multilateral development banks, is exactly the kind of thing they’ve been proposing for years.
But buried within the report are a few surprises—either unexpected cuts, or actual budget hikes from an administration otherwise intent on paring back most domestic agencies. Here are six examples:
1. Extra money for the Census Bureau.
Trump has never been the biggest supporter of data. During his presidential campaign, he invested little money in polling and data analytics relative to his competitors, and he has frequently cast doubt on the legitimacy of basic government statistics, including the unemployment rate.
Trump’s budget is consistent with those sentiments—with one big exception. It cuts funding for the “USDA’s statistical capabilities” and “consolidates the mission, policy support and administrative functions of the Economics Statistics Administration” within three other agencies. But the Census Bureau is the rare statistical agency spared a cut; in fact, its funding is increased by more than $100 million, or around 7 percent. That money is especially important for the agency as it prepares for the 2020 Census—one of the most basic functions of government and because it drives redistricting, one with a huge impact on the future of American politics.
2. Increases airline fees
Trump’s budget also raises the Passenger Security Fee, a surcharge on airline tickets, enough to cover “75 percent of the cost of TSA aviation security operations.” The airline fee was last raised as part of a budget deal in 2014, with the money going toward deficit reduction. The budget doesn’t say how much the fee, which currently is $5.60 for each one-way flight, would rise under the plan but a previous report from the Associated Press had pegged the hike at $1. Trump wants air travelers to pay for these services, instead of having them subsidized by taxpayers. But raising airline fees is never a particularly popular move
3. Creates a new fund for public health emergencies
When it comes to health research, the budget is particularly hostile. The Department of Health and Human Services is cut by more than $15 billion, or 18 percent, including a nearly $6 billion cut from the National Institutes of Health. It also cuts nearly $700 million from FEMA’s state and local grants. But Trump’s budget does create a new “Federal Emergency Response Fund” to address public health outbreaks such as the Zika virus, although it doesn’t specify the funding level. Health experts have been warning for years that the U.S.—and, more broadly, the world—is not prepared for a serious outbreak. While the worst-case scenarios of Ebola and Zika didn’t happen, they scared many Americans and revealed how poorly prepared the U.S. was to respond to a real, viral outbreak.
For whatever reason, Trump has been particularly obsessed with Ebola, tweeting during the 2014 outbreak that Ebola-infected doctors and nurses shouldn’t be let back into the US for treatment (“People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!”), and that ““Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting.” It’s hard to know whether the new funding is part of the administration’s national-security-first philosophy, or just a sop to a personal fixation, but Trump’s new emergency fund would help the U.S. meet a genuine need.
4. Increased funding for removing lead-based paint
Trump’s budget takes a sledgehammer to many programs targeted at low-income Americans, including heating subsidies and housing programs. But it also provides an additional $20 million to remove lead-based paint in low-income homes. That’s an increase of nearly 20 percent—a significant investment against a problem that has largely been eliminated for upper-income Americans, but still is prevalent among low-income housing.
5. Increases bankruptcy filing fees
The budget calls for an increase in bankruptcy-filing fees to bring in an additional $150 million to the Department of Justice’s United States Trustee Program, which oversees the administration of bankruptcy cases. Bankruptcy filing fees can already run in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars for both individuals and businesses, a significant sum for those with little left. It might be a bit surprising that Trump wants to make filing for bankruptcy more expensive—after all, his companies have declared bankruptcy six times. Then again, he’s never gone through the process personally.
6. Increasing funding for opioid addiction
Though most social-services programs take a hit, the budget adds money to address one of the toughest problems plaguing the United States: opioid addiction. Trump proposes $500 million in additional funding to expand prevention efforts and increase access to treatment and recovery services. This is clearly a top priority for the Trump administration. The budget’s introduction includes six bullet points highlighting different elements of the plan, including increased funding for defense, the border wall and immigration enforcement. It also includes a bullet point on reducing opioid abuse. Given Trump’s electoral strength in the Midwest, states facing the worst of the opioid epidemic, the White House’s commitment to fighting makes sense. Not every surprise is inexplicable.