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The Cost Of Trump’s Wall Compared To The Programs He’s Proposing To Cut

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

The fiscal 2018 price for President Trump’s border wall is in: $2.6 billion. That’s a cost to U.S. taxpayers, not a cost many people any longer think will be picked up by the Mexican government.

As first installments go, it’s a pretty big number. Indeed, its size can be appreciated in one powerful way by setting it against some of the many budget cuts Trump proposed this week.

One year of spending on a border wall is the equal of, well, the federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting plus the $231 million given to the country’s libraries and museums plus the $366 million that goes to legal help for the poor.

Actually, the tab is nearly three times the cost of those combined budgets.

Care about the arts? Wondering where the next “Hamilton” might come from?

The federal government could increase the annual combined spending on the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities by 900 percent or so and still not get to the $2.6 billion.

It’s worth noting the $2.6 billion will not actually go toward the big, permanent wall the president has committed to. That’s forecast to be around 10 times the $2.6 billion. The $2.6 billion will go to build a bunch of smaller walls and patch holes in the assortment of fences that now exist.

All these numbers confusing you? Wish you were better at math?

The $2.6 billion is more than twice the annual costs of 21st Century Community Learning Centers created across the country to fund programs run before and after school and throughout the summer. You could actually throw in the $190 million spent on teaching students with disabilities and limited English proficiency and still not match the wall costs.

The wall, of course, is supposed to protect Americans from the cheap labor making its way illegally into the country. It might strike some as odd that, while investing in the wall, the administration has opted to disinvest in a variety of economic programs. The Economic Development Administration’s $221 million budget is wiped out in Trump’s plan. Ditto the $434 million dedicated annually to job training for older low-income people. And the $119 million aimed every year at 420 economically depressed counties in Appalachia.

Had enough of this? Weary of politics and partisanship? Sick of talking about the wall? Want to get away from it all?

There are plenty of options, of course. What there won’t be anymore, under the Trump budget, are the $20 million spent on National Heritage Areas or the $13.2 million spent on the National Wildlife Refuge Fund.

IMAGE: A U.S. flag is seen next to a section of the wall separating Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico, January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

The Tyranny of A Minority President Has Begun — And So Has The Resistance

Donald Trump’s official presidential bio contains about a half-dozen attempts to convince someone — probably himself — that his win was a massive blowout and not a shameful, slight fluke only made possible by the intervention of a foreign government and a domestic conspiracy to get the FBI director to interfere in the democratic process during the final weeks, twice.

This sad overcompensation — like the emergency White House press briefing called Saturday night to lie about the size of of his inauguration crowd as the largest protests in U.S. history raged against the new president — isn’t an accident.

It’s an announcement: We will do what we want regardless of how many Americans are against us.

Since Trump lost by the popular vote by the largest margin in a modern times, he’s done nothing to reach out to the majority of Americans who rejected him. His cabinet is made up entirely of doctrinaire, extremely right-wing Republicans, most of them filthy rich, nearly all white and male. His hostile inaugural address proclaimed a mandate for him to act as the voice of “the people,” though he’s the least popular president to take the office is the history of polling such things.

And things are only going to get worse.

With minority support and no interest in courting anything but that, Trump is about to enact a far right agenda unlike anything we’ve seen since the 1920s.

If Trump gets his way, we are likely to see the greatest transfer of wealth to the richest in human history, though the wealth inequality in America is already nearing levels that brought out the guillotines in 18th-century France.

This transfer of wealth is not just about giant tax breaks for the rich and their kids and their corporations and their kids’ corporations. It’s not just about a massive uninsuring of working Americans that will return us to the era of discrimination against the sick. And it’s not just about the erasure of regulations that will transfer the costs of pollution and financial risk back on to middle-class.

As he was about to take the oath of office, Trump’s team announced plans for $10.5 trillion in cuts based on a plan devised by the Heritage Foundation — a plan that includes huge cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Defense Department. This plan would violate some of Trump’s most notable campaign promises and likely send millions, if not tens of millions, of the 48 million Americans, including 12 million children, that the government keeps out of poverty into abject despair.

What mandate does the GOP have to unwind the insurance of 32 million and turn an income inequality crisis into an income inequality nightmare?

Yes, Republicans hold a majority of seats in the House, where they lost seats despite an electoral map that has been gerrymandered for their exclusive pleasure. Yes, they hold the Senate, where they also lost seats and their 52 representatives represent millions of fewer voters than the 48 Democrats. And then there is Trump, who got millions fewer votes than Clinton but won three key states by a margin smaller than 1 percent with share of the vote less than 50 percent.

The closest analogy in history to this is the 2000 election when George W. Bush made passing gestures at unity and ended up pursuing a nakedly partisan agenda that erased a surplus, lost two wars and revealed mass incompetence.

But even W. didn’t go after Planned Parenthood. And the millions he uninsured were just the side effect of the failure of his economic polices.

Conservatives often worry about the “tyranny of the majority,” a phrase Alexis de Tocqueville picked up from John Adams to fret about “mutability of law that is inherent in a democracy by changing the legislature year, and investing it with almost unbounded authority.”

They much prefer the “tyranny of the minority” — as long as the minority we’re speaking of is rich, white men.

So it’s fitting that the right should be willing to abandon all its once-fervent worries about Donald Trump and surrender to his warm embrace of nearly all of their policies. And in exchange Trump takes total control of the Reality Gerrymandering machine they’ve built for decades, with think tanks and a pliant media dedicated to the proposition that birth begins at incorporation. It’s this machine that made Trump’s rise possible and it’s this machine that will sell Trump’s agenda.

The right’s greatest asset is that its policies are so damn profitable for its donors. Conservative allies spent $666 million attacking Obamacare, outspending defense of the reforms by about 5-to-1. They’ll likely do the same or more to tell people why they should be so happy their neighbors are being uninsured. And Trump’s willingness to lie about crowd size and anything means his promises are worth less than the businesses he bankrupted.

Republicans can only lose two votes in the Senate to enact their extreme makeover of the middle class — and two Republicans up in 2018 just happen to represent states that really love their Planned Parenthood.

Taking away things could be harder than Republicans can imagine. And with millions hitting the streets and Trump’s nerve on his first weekend in power, at least the people reminded their president that he only represents a minority of the people he governs. And that may not be enough.

Cotton, Republicans Struggle To Balance Threat With Defense Cuts

By Heidi Przybyla, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas says the U.S. should go on the offense against terrorists around the world. He also voted to retain deep cuts in defense spending set for later this year.

For many Republicans like Cotton, reconciling those conflicting goals will be among their biggest challenges as House and Senate Republicans release budget proposals next week.

A group of Senate Republican defense hawks led by John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina want to ease across-the-board spending cuts enacted in a 2011 budget agreement. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming made clear this week that he intends to keep those cuts, which were achieved after a hard-fought standoff.

“They’ve got themselves wrapped around the axle,” Steve Bell, a senior director at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington and a former Republican Senate budget staff director. “It’s going to illustrate dramatically at some point the split in the party.”

Enzi and House Budget Chairman Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, plan to release separate budget proposals early next week and begin committee consideration. The goal is to reach a unified plan, with both chambers now under Republican control for the first time in eight years.

The cap on defense spending is to be cut by about $35 billion in the 2016 fiscal year starting Oct. 1, allowing for little growth. The limit was enacted as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, intended to cut $1.2 trillion in domestic and defense spending through 2021.

Congress voted to ease those reductions for the past two fiscal years, though, and the question is whether lawmakers will do the same for 2016. While some Republicans want more defense spending, Democrats are insisting any defense increases must be matched by higher spending on domestic programs such as education, scientific research and aid to the poor.

“When you pull on the string it all comes undone,” Bell said. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s website says it seeks to encourage lawmakers to overcome political divisions.

Cotton, who served as an Army officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, led 46 other senators in sending an open letter to Iran’s leaders this week suggesting that any deal they make with Obama on limiting nuclear weapons could be revoked after the president leaves office.

Hostilities in Ukraine, the beheadings of Americans in Syria and a bigger U.S. military footprint in Iraq may sway lawmakers to support more defense spending. McCain has repeatedly said he won’t vote for a budget that maintains the scheduled defense cuts.

“Every Republican is highly concerned about military readiness, the fact that we are hollowing out our military,” Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson said at a Bloomberg breakfast Friday with reporters in Washington. “We’re just not ready to meet the challenges we’re going to face.”

Yet some Republicans not only oppose increased funds for domestic programs needed to win Democratic votes, they demand even deeper cuts to offset any relief for the Defense Department.

“It’s very, very important that we preserve the overall spending caps which have been the only success we’ve had in fiscal discipline in a long time around here,” said Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. In order to pass the House, such an approach will “be required,” Johnson said.

The debate may lead to a new political bind for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who last week had to abandon much of his Republican conference and rely on Democratic votes to pass a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

Republicans aligned with the small-government Tea Party wanted to use the Homeland Security bill to block President Barack Obama’s immigration policy. On the budget, they support keeping the 2011 spending limits in place.

White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan said Thursday that Obama won’t accept a budget that locks in the 2011 spending caps in defense and non-defense spending. Obama’s budget proposal in February offered a $38 billion increase for national security programs over current budget caps, as well as $37 billion more for domestic programs.

Some Republicans including Graham are proposing a compromise — a reserve fund in the budget that would allow negotiations over defense spending to be held later. Enzi’s proposal may include such an escape valve, said lawmakers briefed on the plan, including Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.

Corker sought to play down the tensions, noting that a budget is a non-binding policy statement anyway.

“The only way to affect military spending is through changing a law,” Corker said. “That’s a detail a lot of people are missing.”

Democrats are making a case for ending the automatic spending reductions.

“I will do my best, as I think every member in our caucus will do, to end” the spending cuts, said Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who is on the Budget Committee.

Neither party likes the 2011 budget-control law, which lawmakers enacted to force themselves to reduce spending after Obama and Republican leaders couldn’t reach a bargain to rein in the national debt.

The spending cuts were intended to be so unacceptable that, to replace them, Democrats would finally agree to trim entitlement programs such as Social Security and Republicans would accept tax increases they ordinarily oppose.

No such deal came about. Instead, the bipartisan budget agreement in December 2013 used offsetting spending cuts and revenue measures, leaving few remaining areas for action outside of the entitlement-program cuts and tax increases that Democrats and Republicans can’t agree to address.

Cotton, 37, a freshman senator, told CNN that month that the U.S. needs to “get back on offense all around the world” against terrorists, including by sending military troops if necessary. During his previous term in the House, he voted against the 2013 budget deal, saying at the time that it “busts the spending caps that took effect just months ago.”

His spokeswoman, Caroline Rabbitt, said he opposed a spending measure in early 2014 in part because it cut military pensions. She said in an e-mail Thursday that Cotton supports easing the defense cuts before October.

The 2011 Budget Control Act was modeled after an earlier attempt by Congress to force itself to reduce spending, the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act.

In the five years the law was in effect, it was frequently skirted as government officials changed economic assumptions to avoid imposing cuts that would be required if the deficit- reduction targets weren’t met.
With assistance from Erik Wasson and Roxana Tiron in Washington.

Photo: U.S. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)