Trump’s Budget: What You Need To Know

Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, released on May 23, reiterates the unrealistic and draconian discretionary spending cuts previously announced in his “skinny budget,” and adds harmful cuts in entitlement programs. While not law, the White House budget kicks off the Congressional appropriations process for funding the government in the next year by laying out the President’s priorities. Previously, Trump had released a “skinny budget” outline, but now we understand the full, monstrous scope of his priorities.

Here’s what you need to know about Trump’s budget proposal. It slashes funding for virtually all nondefense programs, such as public education, repairing roads and bridges, and protecting the environment. It would make painful cuts to programs that help families maintain basic living standards. It uses bogus math to justify huge tax cuts for the rich. And it breaks Trump’s promise not to cut Social Security.

Remember: Congress—not the President—Funds the Government

Trump’s budget proposal is just that: a proposal. It is non-binding. Congress will ultimately determine which programs are funded and at what levels. And, Members of Congress (MoCs) work for you, so you have the power to shape the outcome here. Considering the unbelievable cuts in this budget proposal, Congress better throw each and every item in the garbage. Donald Trump is hoping that Congress rubber-stamps decimating of critical domestic programs, like Medicaid, nutrition assistance, environmental protection, to fund massive tax cuts for the rich and increases in military spending. Make sure your MoCs are sticking up for you in the budget fight, and not for Trump.

Keep Your Focus on Congress

The House and Senate are each working on their own budget resolutions. These resolutions will instruct appropriations committees how much money they have to allocate in the coming fiscal year. They also will start the reconciliation process that allows Republicans to rush through partisan changes, which could include cuts to Medicare and further cuts to Medicaid, on top of the $800 billion Medicaid cut in TrumpCare. The budget resolutions will likely be considered by the House in June, and later this summer by the Senate. We must oppose our MoCs using the budget resolution to make regressive cuts along the lines of Trump’s request.

Key Messages for Your Members of Congress

Here are the key messages that your MoCs need to be hearing from you now:

  • No cuts to entitlements and programs that ensure basic living standards for families. The budget proposes to slash $800 billion from Medicaid, $72 billion from Social Security benefits for the disabled, and another $464 billion from food stamps and other core programs for working families.
  • Demand parity between defense and non-defense spending. “Non-defense spending” is where you’ll find funding for programs such as public education, repairing roads and bridges, and protecting our environment. Since 2011, increases to defense spending have been matched with increases to non-defense spending, or cuts to non-defense with cuts to defense. The Trump Budget would violate this principle by slashing non-defense spending while increasing the already huge U.S. military budget by $54 billion over the sequester cap for 2018
  • No funding for a border wall or ramped up internal immigration enforcement. The budget proposes a $1.6 billion down payment on Trump’s costly wall, something that Americans don’t want, won’t work, and will only make us less safe. Make sure that Trump doesn’t get the resources he needs for this or his mass deportation force, which will not only tear American families apart, but will also make our nation less safe.
  • Don’t weaken the future of the U.S. economy—invest in education and research, and support business innovation. The Trump budget forecasts impossibly rosy economic growth, while simultaneously cutting out major engines of future growth. (Again, tax cuts aren’t the silver bullet Republicans want them to be.) Not only would the Trump budget result in immediate and acute harms to working families and the poor—it would erode the path to the American dream and the foundation for new innovations that will power our future economy.
  • No new requirements for tax credits that help working families. The budget would require a Social Security number in order to apply for the Child Tax Credit, a critical tool to help working families with children make ends meet. This would drive many  children of immigrants ineligible for a social security number into poverty. Some of these children are U.S. citizens.
  • Don’t cut or eliminate programs that protect our environment. The budget would slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by 31%, including a $330 million cut for cleaning up areas polluted by hazardous waste and a complete elimination of funding to protect the Great Lakes. It also makes major cuts to Clean Air Act programs that help reduce air pollution.   
  • Demand “revenue-neutral” tax legislation. This means asking that any tax cuts need to be offset by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations, which will protect funding for essential programs. Reject the magical thinking that Trump’s tax cuts will pay for themselves—they won’t.

Memorial Day Recess Town Hall Sample Questions

Five General Tips for Crafting Town Hall Questions

  1. Keep your eye on the prize. Your job isn’t to convince your MoCit’s to make him or her give you an answer or make clear to all watching that they refuse.
  2. Be a storyteller. Incorporate your own personal story in your question. Keep in mind your audience is as much your neighbors and fellow town hall attendees as it is the MoC. Be honest, be vulnerable, and tell stories that matter.
  3. Make a concrete, verifiable ask. The best asks are clear, actionable for the MoC, and easy to verify, whether they followed through or not. If you ask any MoC “Will you fight for me?” Every single one of them will say “Yes!” and then go about their day. If you ask them, “Will you commit to voting against X upcoming bill?” they may answer directly or they may prevaricate, but regardless they will adjust their decision-making calculus.
  4. Don’t settle for talking points. MoCs love to fall back on a set of canned responses to your REAL questions. Don’t let them. Force them to engage with your humanity.
  5. Know your strengths. Just want to show up to the town hall, but don’t want to ask a question? That’s OK! Showing up is doing your partyou’re supporting everyone else in the room. Be honest about your strengths and limitations because that will make the work stronger.

DEFEND THE ACA AND MEDICAID

Since the fight to save the ACA is now in the Senate, the following question are for your two senators. Questions for your representative, see here.

  1. Republicans in the House sided with Trump over the wellbeing of their constituents when they voted to pass TrumpCare. They voted for it without a CBO score, meaning that they didn’t even know how much it would harm their constituents. We now have a CBO score and know that TrumpCare would kick 23 million people off of their health care. As your constituent, can you promise me that you:
    • “…won’t vote for a bill that would lead to millions of Americans losing their health coverage?”
    • “…won’t vote for a bill without first knowing its full implications from a CBO score?”
  2. I don’t believe that ensuring “access” to health care, which doesn’t take into account affordability or quality of care, is good enough. Can you guarantee that any replacement plan will cover AT LEAST as many people that would be covered under the ACA? Can you guarantee that no one will lose their coverage as a result of your vote?
  3. I [or someone I know] has “x” condition and I’m afraid that I [they] will be unable to obtain affordable health coverage because of my [their] pre-existing condition. I want to know if you can assure me that I’ll be able to get the same consumer protections as the ACA, including for a pre-existing condition?
  4. Thanks to the ACA, I was able to enroll in my state’s Medicaid program for the first time. I’m afraid that a replacement plan will end funding for state Medicaid expansions. Can you assure me that funding for Medicaid won’t get cut under ANY replacement plan?
  5. Currently, anyone who is eligible for Medicaid is able to get it. I’m one of those people. I’m afraid that I may lose my Medicaid coverage if the program is restructured. Can you also assure me that Medicaid will remain an entitlement, and that anyone eligible will be guaranteed coverage?
  6. [For Democrats] I’m afraid that Republicans will try to force Democrats to negotiate on coverage and benefits in a replacement plan. Can you promise me that you won’t compromise on coverage and benefits for anyone currently eligible for the ACA?

CHOOSE TRUTH OVER TRUMP ON RUSSIA

  1. I’m really concerned about the state of our democracy right now. The news about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia gets worse every day, and now it looks like Trump may have engaged in obstruction of justice by firing Comey. The Department of Justice has appointed a special counsel to lead the investigation into Russia’s interference in our election, but that is not enough. We need an independent commission to get a full and more transparent airing of the facts.
    • [For Republican House Members] There is a “discharge petition” that would force a vote on the Protecting our Democracy Act (H.R.356), a bill that would establish an independent commission to investigate Russian interference. I know you also believe in protecting our democracythis should not be a partisan issue. Will you sign on to the discharge petition?
    • [For Senators] Senator Cardin has a bill, S.27, that would establish a commission of independent experts to examine the facts regarding Russia and the 2016 election. Will you commit to co-sponsoring this bill today?
  2. With questions mounting about Trump’s ties to Russia, it is more important now than ever that we hold Donald Trump to his promise to release his tax returns. Until we see Trump’s tax returns, we cannot be certain that foreign governments don’t have leverage over the White House. Every president since Carter has released their tax returns for a simple reason: it demonstrates that they don’t have conflicts of interests. Congress has the power to get Trump’s tax returns… YOU have the power to make that happen. There is a bill called the Presidential Tax Transparency Act (for House Members, H.R. 305, for Senators, S. 26) that would require President Trump and future major party presidential nominees to release the three most recent years of their tax returns. This is a bipartisan bill in the House, with co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle. Will you commit to co-sponsoring this bill today?
    • [For House Republicans] Your party leadership is refusing to bring a vote on the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. You can force them to bring a vote on it by signing your name to Rep. Anna Eshoo’s discharge petition. Will you commit to making sure we get a vote on Trump’s taxes by signing on to Rep. Eshoo’s discharge petition?

REJECT TRUMP’S BILLIONAIRE BUDGET

  1. The Trump budget is terrible. Not only does the math not add up, it makes devastating cuts to programs everyday Americans rely on so that Trump can give tax cuts to his billionaire friends. That’s obscene and unacceptable. It’s not enough to say you oppose the Trump budgetanyone with a pulse would say that. Will you commit to protecting and preserving important programs that keep many Americans afloat like Social Security and Social Security Disability, Medicaid, and food stamps?
  2. It’s absurd that the Trump budget increases funding for the Department of Defense while slashing almost everything else. The Trump budget even threatens funds that could pay the salaries of 35,000 teachers! It doesn’t make sense to make huge cuts to programs that feed the elderly, educate our children, and discover new cures for disease so we can beef up our military even more. Will you commit not to increase defense spending unless we also increase funding to educate our kids, repair our roads and bridges, and pursue life-saving cures?
  3. I care deeply about keeping my country safe, but I don’t think that the plans Donald Trump has for his border wall and deportation force will increase our security or safety. Not only will they not make us any safer, but funding immigration enforcement will prevent us from paying for more important programs like education, housing, and meals on wheels. Can you commit to me, your constituent, that you will oppose any request from the White House to fund the wall and a mass deportation regime?
  4. The Trump budget makes terrible trade offs to give tax breaks to the rich. For example, the budget would cut $192 billion from food stamps but Trump also wants to eliminate the estate taxwhich costs $174 billion. The estate tax only hits the wealthiest families worth over $5.5 million! Assuming Trump is worth the billions he says he is, his family would personally stand to save billions of dollars under that plan. Will you reject giving the richest Americansand Trump’s familyanother tax cut while the middle class gets virtually nothing?
  5. EPA’s budget today is already 20 percent lower than it was back in 2010. The Trump Administration’s proposed budget would cut EPA funding by an additional 31% percent, leaving critical programs unfunded and putting American’s health and environment at risk. Will you refuse to vote for a budget bill unless EPA is fully funded at current budget levels? [Note: Consider whether there are local impacts to the budget cuts: is there a cleanup in your district? Are there fishermen that depend on a local waterbody for a livelihood? Telling personal stories of how you and your community benefit from a clean, healthy environment is very powerful.]

KEEP THE GUARD RAILS ON WALL STREET

  1. [For House Members] The House of Representatives is considering a bill called the Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10) that would deregulate Wall Street, giving them the power to play with our economy like they did before the financial crisis. Will you oppose any bill that dismantles the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and oppose the CHOICE Act?
  2. [For House Members] The 2008 financial crisis that caused millions of people to lose their jobs, homes, and savings came from Wall Street greed and lack of regulation. The Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10) would repeal laws put in place to protect my assets and our financial system. Will you commit to me that you will oppose the CHOICE Act and oppose taking the guard rails off of the financial system?

Legislative Process 101—Appropriations (or “Keeping the Lights On”)

Our government spends a lot of money (trillions of dollars) every year. Naturally, Congress, which is given the power of the purse by the Constitution, spends a lot of time deciding how much to spend and what to spend it on. Let’s start at the beginning.

The President’s Budget: Does It Matter?

The process to pass yearly appropriations starts in February when the President is supposed to release a budget proposal. The president’s budget is purely symbolic and he can’t make Congress fund his priorities. Still, when Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party, the president’s budget is worth a close look to get a sense of what programs they want to cut or grow.

Budget Resolution

Next, Congress passes a budget resolution, usually in the spring (but they can pass it whenever, really). This resolution, which isn’t signed by the president, sets out the target for how much money Congress expects to spend in a given year. It also kicks off the reconciliation process if the party controlling Congress wants to monkey with mandatory spending (explained below) or taxes.

Regular Order on Appropriations

Control over what programs get the thumbs up or thumbs down rests foremost with the Committees on Appropriations in the Senate and House. Each chamber has a set of subcommittees with jurisdiction over particular agencies.

According to regular order, the subcommittees hold public hearings, usually throughout early spring  and markup individual bills based on a spending limit set out for each of them in the budget resolution discussed above. We typically see Defense Appropriations completed earlier rather than later. Ultimately, each subcommittee produces a bill detailing how much money goes to each federal program in their jurisdiction.

Next, each bill is considered and approved by the full appropriations committee, then sent to the House and Senate floors for a vote in late summer or early fall. Sometimes they are packaged together into one big appropriations bill called an omnibus bill. Omnibus bills are a sign that Congress is not functioning under regular order, and this has been happening more and more recently. If the Senate or House pass different bills, they have to work to resolve the differences and pass it again.

This Is Important: Mandatory vs. Discretionary Spending

Surprisingly, Congress doesn’t actually get to play around with all federal spending every year. About two-thirds of the dollars leaving the Treasury are known as mandatory spending. These funds go to programs that the government, by law, has obligated itself to run regardless of cost, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. These programs are often referred to as entitlements, since a person is “entitled” to benefits if they’re eligible, and not based on whether Congress decides to fund them or not.

When we talk about appropriations, we’re really talking about discretionary spending. The remaining third of annual spending is discretionary funding. This includes everything from public safety grants, to international aid, to toxic waste cleanup funds (and no, we’re not talking about the White House janitors). About half of discretionary spending goes to the military. Congress gets to decide whether or not to fund these programs, and by how much.

What Happens If Congress Fails to Enact an Appropriations Bill?

The federal government’s funding runs from October through September of the following year. This is called the fiscal year. If September 30th comes and Congress hasn’t passed all of its appropriations bills, the federal government shuts down until they get their act together. Typically, this happens because of political gridlock, like in 2013 when Republicans shut down the government in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act.

If Congress is simply taking too long and the September 30th deadline is looming, MoCs will give themselves an extension called a continuing resolution (CR), maintaining current funding levels until they can actually pass spending bills. Congress passes a lot of CRs these days.

How Can I Resist the Trump Agenda with This Knowledge?

Trump and Congressional Republicans are going to try and cut funding for programs that increase educational opportunities for children, aid the health and wellness of everyday Americans, cut pollution, and assist war-torn countries. All of this will be in service of increasing military spending and building that wall. Influencing appropriations and stopping these cuts is all about persistence, timing, and knowing who matters.

If you hear cuts are coming to a program you care about, always tell your member of Congress. Tell them often. Members are flooded with appropriations requests from hundreds of interests, so it’s easy for your advocacy to get lost unless you’re persistent. Be as specific as you can about the name of the program and how much funding you’re asking for it. Do this all year.

Tell them also what programs you don’t want fundedlike that wall.

But make most of your contacts in the spring! MoCs  set deadlines for appropriations requests in February and March. Make sure your MoCs includes your priorities in their request.

Lastly, find out if your MoC is on the appropriations subcommittee for your issue, or at least on the full Appropriations Committee. The House Appropriations Committee members can be found here, and here for the Senate. They’re the ones with all the power here. If your MoC isn’t on the committee, that’s okay! You should still focus on your two senators and representative since they can lobby those who are on the committees to make sure your priorities are considered.