The Budget that Wasn’t: President Trump’s Message to Congress and the World

by Adotei Akwei, Managing Director of Government Relations, Amnesty International USA

This should not come as a surprise.

Since his inauguration, President Trump has been consistent in trying to keep his campaign promises and live up to his rhetoric: recruiting a cabinet that is as dismissive of foreign policy precedents set by any of its predecessors as the President is and who are equally confident that they are smarter and know that 50 years of foreign policy and building a global community that aspires to abide by and respect common goals and standards on human rights and development should be thrown out.

He has just made a second attempt, (having been blocked by courts and by public outrage the first time around) to ban most people from first seven and then six Muslim-majority countries from being allowed in the country.

He has suspended the US refugee program initially for 120 days at which point he will decide whether or not to restart the program or extend the suspension.

The President is also moving forward to fulfill another campaign promise: building his great wall along the southern border and up efforts to round up and deport undocumented persons who are living here in the United States.

Candidate Trump had campaigned for office ridiculing the conduct of US foreign policy, opined on restoring the practice of torture, and carpet bombing what he described as terrorists. He had questioned the value of multilateral engagements and promised a return to a vision of US supremacy based on the creation of a military juggernaut and the credo of evaluating anything by whether it helps make America great again as judged by the President.

To fund this budget, the administration is calling for cuts in a number of areas that Democrat and Republican lawmakers have both deemed critical for global peace and stability and in the national interest of the United States.

The US Department of State is slated for a 10% cut despite public comments from members of the military that investing in diplomatic power would help reduce demands on the military. The budget calls for cuts in foreign assistance that help fund humanitarian operations, peacekeeping missions, fight poverty or that support efforts to strengthen the rule of law and respect for human rights. The budget would eliminate the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Account (ERMA), stating that this cut would “focus funding on the highest priority areas while asking the rest of the world to pay their fair share.”

The budget calls for even higher cuts to accounts that fund the United Nations.

The impact of the proposed budget would be crippling. Crippling for the UN and for hundreds of millions of people around the world that the global body supports and protects.

The potential consequences of this budget are widespread: an increase in human rights abuses and poor governance, increased conflict through the weakening of control and regulations of the trade in small arms and conventional weapons, larger displaced populations and refugee flows, increased risk of regional health crises spreading and impacting wider populations.

If these are not enough to convince Congress and the US Senate to develop an alternative budget, then there are the cold hard calculations of what a US withdrawal from a position of global leadership could result in. Whether the increased risks that accompany a rise in influence of countries that do not share a commitment to the rule of law and human rights can be answered by force of arms alone. Congress should be painfully aware of the policies and rhetoric that have insulted and alienated much of the Muslim world and antagonized persons in the Americas who have also been denigrated at different times by the President. Eviscerating US foreign assistance and hamstringing the Department of State at the same time suggests either the belief that that United States is completely independent of the global community and the repercussions from this budget will not matter, or the belief that the US role in global community doesn’t matter. Either conclusion is dangerously wrong.

The President’s proposed budget is being billed as a message to the world. If that is the case, then all of us have to engage in fighting for a more sensible budget and foreign policy. The American public, because it is the right thing to do, and the Senate, because it more than any other part of the US government outside of the executive branch understands what is at stake with the United States’ global presence and the international system based on the United Nations

But that unfortunately is not all.

There are two budget requests that the Trump administration has sent to Congress, and while the “skinny” appropriations request thumbs its nose at the world and the Senate and applies to FY 2018, the supplemental appropriations request for the fiscal year 2017 starts the process of building “Fortress America” now.

The supplemental comes in at a whopping $33 billion. $30 billion going to the Department of Defense, $1 billion in additional funding to go to the Department of Homeland Security to help pay the costs for the Trump wall between the United States and Mexico, (now expected to cost between $12–15 billion, according to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell).

$1.2 billion to pay for detention, transportation, and removal of “illegal aliens”, and for alternatives to detention;

$76 million to build hiring capacity to recruit and bring on board 10,000 ICE agents and officers;

$5 million for homeland security investigations intelligence activities; and

$5 million to support the expansion of the Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act program.

Both budget requests flow from the same sources: hatred and fear, and head toward the same destination: isolation and decreased security.

They should both be opposed.

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