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Trump's new budget proposal boosts defence spending, slashes foreign aid

The US president's plan includes a 21 percent cut to foreign aid and a nearly $20bn funding increase to 'modernise' Washington's nuclear weapons arsenal
US President Donald Trump speaks at the White House during a meeting with the nation's governors on 10 February (AFP)
By MEE staff in Washington, DC

US President Donald Trump will soon roll out his administration's 2021 federal budget proposal to Congress, a $4.89 trillion package that is expected to slightly boost military spending while slashing domestic programmes and foreign aid. 

The election-year budget proposal, which will be the last of Trump's first term, is set to be released on Monday. 

The spending plan includes a military budget of $740.5 bn - a $2bn increase (.3 percent) from the last fiscal year. At the same time, the president's plan would cut foreign aid by 21 percent and domestic programmes by 5 percent. 

The budget plan that will be released would apply to the US fiscal year, which begins in October. But the plan is unlikely to pass, as it first has to make its way through the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, which is expected to quickly dismiss the bulk of Trump's proposals. 

Defence budget 

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Trump, after compromising with House Democrats, signed a funding bill last year that saw a $22bn increase in defence spending, while this year's proposal only slightly increased Pentagon funding. 

The .3 percent increase is a far cry from the number Defence Secretary Mark Esper told Congress last week that he hopes to see in coming years, as he pushes for investments into modernisation efforts. 

"In the years ahead, we need to get back to 3 to 5 percent real growth annually," Esper said Thursday during an event in Washington. But in the meantime, "we have to brace ourselves that at best, defence spending will be level."

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Esper, who took office in August, told Defense News on Monday that he played a smaller role in this year's budget, given his short time in office, but plans to take a greater role in next year's proposal should Trump win the 2020 election. 

"This budget will reflect as much of my imprint on it as I could make in three months," he said. "The next budget that we're developing now, clearly, will have my fingerprints all over it."

In addition to the .3 percent increase in defence spending, Trump's proposed budget seeks to increase funding to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by $19.8bn, 20 percent more than what he's asked for in the past to "modernise" the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Under Trump's budget plan, funding to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would receive a boost of 3 percent, which amounts to a $2bn increase. 

The extra money requested for DHS funding would be set to go toward building the US's southern border wall. 

The $2bn figure is considerably less than Congress has agreed to in the past, but Trump's administration was able to slash the amount requested by siphoning off billions from the Pentagon's budget through last year's national emergency declaration, which saw thousands of US troops deployed to the southern border. 

Foreign aid 

The US president wants to cut foreign aid by 22 percent, a move backed by his "America first" base but a red line for most congressional leaders. 

Trump tried to slash foreign aid in last year's budget but faced bipartisan resistance from Congress, which in the end blocked the measure. 

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The cuts proposed by Trump this year would see foreign aid spending drop from $55.7bn to $44.1bn in the upcoming fiscal year. 

It was not immediately clear where the aid cuts would be implemented, but a US official familiar with the matter told Reuters that aid to Ukraine would remain the same. 

Representative Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, blasted Trump's proposal, calling it "nothing but red meat for the President’s political base". 

“Like the President’s previous budgets, this year’s request is a waste of the paper it’s printed on," Engel said in a statement on Monday. "Proposing such reckless cuts to our critical foreign policy tools isn’t a serious proposal. If this draconian budget were enacted, it would weaken our security and leadership around the world."

"Foreign governments surely look at this administration’s priorities and see an America shrinking away from the world stage, willing to cede ground to rivals who are happy to fill the void," he continued.

According to a report by Foreign Policy in August, last year's proposed cuts could have affected foreign aid programs in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia; peacekeeping operations and programmes aimed at addressing the influence of Russia and China in Europe and other developing countries.

The US government provides assistance to over 100 countries around the world. Its largest recipient is Israel, which received around $3.6bn in 2019. 

With Trump's fierce backing of Israel in recent years, it is unlikely Israel would see any of the proposed foreign aid cuts. 

Last week, in the lead up to Trump's budget release, retired Admiral Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, urged congressional leaders not to allow the foreign aid cuts. 

The retired admiral bluntly warned that cutting aid while depending on increased military investments would lead to more war. 

"The more we cut the international affairs budget, the higher the risk for longer and deadlier military operations," Mullen said in a letter to congressional leaders in both the House and Senate.

“This is a moment where more investment in diplomacy and development is needed not less,” Mullen said. 

'A dystopian vision'  

Trump's proposed budget would also seek to slash domestic safety-net spending on things like Medicare prescriptions, food stamps and disability benefits by $292bn, while opening up funds for rural American infrastructure. 

Other cuts include a 26.5 percent slash on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget, nine percent from the Department of Health and Human Services, eight percent from the Department of Education and 15.2 percent cuts from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Democrat Representative Ilhan Omar, retweeting a post detailing the budget's cuts to healthcare, called the plan "a dystopian vision for America". 

"He wants to take away your healthcare to fund more war," Omar tweeted in a separate post. 

The budget plan, which reflects Trump's objectives for his second term, proposes spending billions on infrastructure, business loans and internet access in rural America, a key part of his re-election base.

Among the programmes is a $25bn funding plan for a new "Revitalising Rural America" initiative to help areas with broadband internet access, and water, road and bridge projects - among other initiatives. 

Trump also requested a 12 percent increase in NASA funding, as the president said he wants the agency to land astronauts on Mars in coming years. 

The budget proposal also doubles spending on artificial intelligence research from $973, to nearly $2bn. 

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