If you want to understand the Trump administration's priorities during the pandemic, look at its 2021 budget — it values corporations and the wealthy at every turn

GettyTrump’s priorities can be seen in his budget.
  • Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures, a cofounder of the Seattle Review of Books, and a frequent cohost of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast with Nick Hanauer.
  • He says that while many Americans were “horrified” to learn that President Trump shuttered the pandemic response team, the administration has made its priorities clear in their annual budgets.
  • Bob Greenstein, the founder and president of the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that Trump’s new budget would wipe out the floor under those most impacted by coronavirus.
  • A better budget would not only help those suffering, but offer opportunities for everyone to create and build.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the nation, many Americans were horrified to learn that President Trump’s administration shuttered the National Security Council’s pandemic response team in 2018. But in fairness to the Administration, it’s not like the pandemic team was disbanded in secret, or singled out for special mistreatment – the Trump administration has always been very clear about its priorities. They have advertised them every single year in a public document – their annual budget.

The truth is, if you want to see what a society prioritises, a budget will give you more concrete evidence about what truly matters most to its leaders than any promise-filled political speeches or aspirational party platforms ever will.

You can learn more about the president’s approach to coronavirus by ignoring his ever-changing public statements about COVID-19 – it’s gone from a “hoax” to a pandemic in roughly a month – and instead paying close attention to the priorities he has consistently identified in his budgets. The Trump administration has continually proposed massive budget cuts to public health agencies like the World Health Organisation, the Centre for Disease Control, and the National Institutes of Health. It has underfunded the Affordable Care Act at every turn.

Everybody knew that America would one day again face a global pandemic. Trump dismantled the pandemic response team in the face of such warnings – and he did it exactly 100 years after his own grandfather succumbed to the Spanish flu. We might hear from Trump administration officials that they’re deeply concerned about those suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, but their budget puts the lie to those concerns – those same officials quite literally refused to put money where their mouth is.

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So what can we learn about the way the Trump administration plans to help America recover from the economic collapse that the coronavirus has caused? At nearly five trillion dollars, Trump’s 2021 budget prioritises corporations and the wealthy over middle-class and impoverished Americans at every single turn. It cuts SNAP and affordable housing benefits for the poorest Americans, strips funds from Medicaid for the Americans most in need of assistance, and slashes student debt to the bone.

In the latest episode of “Pitchfork Economics,” Nick Hanauer and Jasmin Weaver talk with Bob Greenstein, the founder and president of the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities. Greenstein is a celebrated expert on the federal budget, anti-poverty programs, and the intersection of tax and healthcare policy, and he is sounding the alarm that Trump’s new budget would wipe out the floor for Americans most in need of relief from the coronavirus.

In virtually every aspect of post-coronavirus recovery – from the cost of healthcare to small-business support, from unemployment insurance to debt relief – the Trump budget would quantifiably make things worse. It would be an unmitigated disaster, offering less support for unhoused Americans, poor families, and seniors.

But in order to properly formulate a budget of their own, progressives need to understand exactly why Trump’s budget is a disaster for everyone. When Democrats are in power, they too often treat budgets solely as a way to help people – focusing money on relief efforts and the mitigation of misery – when in fact they should be telling a different story.

Michael Linden, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, made probably the clearest definition I’ve ever read for the kind of values a good budget should reflect:

“When workers have the support and investment they need to do their best work, they innovate, create, and do more with less time and fewer resources. When consumers have money in their pockets, they drive demand for goods and services and induce businesses to invest in the future. They all need public support and strong foundations to ensure that private concentrations of wealth and power don’t distort the economy to the advantage of the ultra-wealthy, and to broaden the economic base by bringing more people into full participation.”

Make no mistake: A progressive budget would provide plenty of SNAP benefits and affordable housing allowances and emergency care measures for those suffering from the impact of the pandemic. Every functioning society needs a strong safety net.

But strong budgets recognise the fact that economies are built (and rebuilt) from the bottom up. We can’t just hand people a check and tell them to go back to work just like they did in January 2020. It’s only by encouraging people to start businesses and go back to school and take big chances with their lives that we will build an economy that truly works for everyone. Rather than handing money to corporations under the guise of recovery, we should be creating the kind of security that encourages everyone to make and do and build: investments in green technology and rural internet and student loan relief and healthcare for everyone.

The Trump budget is a blueprint for one of the biggest transfers of America’s wealth in our history, a heist that steals from the bottom of the economy and gives to the top. But it would be better for everyone – the wealthiest Americans included – if our budget was instead an inclusive investment in the future.

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