On Wednesday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump railed against an arbitrary cap on spending that Congress set as a compromise in early 2013.
Known as sequestration or the sequester, the automatic budget cuts have been in place ever since, hitting both defense and non-defense discretionary spending. But Trump only focused on the military side of the ledger.
“As soon as I take office,” Trump pledged, “I will ask Congress to fully eliminate the defense sequester,” arguing it will increase certainty about the future for military leaders and “most importantly we will be defended, because without defense we don’t have a country.”
Not too long ago, Trump seemed to feel the exact opposite about sequestration. Back in 2013, as the cuts were about to go into effect, he went on Fox and said they didn’t go far enough. “This is a very minor amount of the cuts that have to be made ultimately,” he said at the time. “I think you’re going to have do a lot more cutting if you’re going to balance budgets… This is just the beginning.”
He also warned that if sequestration’s cuts didn’t happen, “Eventually you’re going to have a big fat explosion… We have to get our debt at the least way down.”
Trump’s spoken less urgently about the national debt during his campaign, although he did say on Thursday that he would ask Congress to “fully offset the costs of increased military spending” once it did away with sequestration. He offered up reducing other government spending and “mak[ing] government leaner” by addressing improper payments, unpaid taxes, and a reduced federal workforce.
But analysts have already warned that his ideas to cover the increase won’t cut it. The Committee for a Responsible Budget, a conservative deficit hawk group, estimated that it would cost $450 billion through 2026 to lift the defense sequestration’s caps. Yet Trump’s proposals to pay for that amount would cover less than two-thirds of it, still costing the country $150 billion.
That’s a big figure to add to government spending if Trump is still concerned about debt. And Trump’s military plan would likely swell spending levels beyond their pre-sequester levels. His proposal calls for more troops, more aircraft, more ships, and new missile defense systems.
Trump has blithely proposed big spending before. According to a variety of estimates, his tax plan would cost about $10 trillion over a decade, mainly to pay big benefits to the wealthiest Americans. While he’s said he would revise that plan to make it less costly, he’s yet to release an update.
Trump has also shown no interest in reversing the budget cuts that sliced into non-defense programs like public health, early childhood education, housing for the poor, and meals for the elderly. Although Congress reached a budget deal at the end of 2013 that alleviated some of the cuts, they still continue to leave a deep mark on these programs. Nutrition for the elderly has continued to feel the full brunt, as has domestic violence prevention, education funds for disabled students, and a variety of other government operations.
If Trump cut that spending even further to pay for an increase on the defense side, it could have devastating impacts on public health and safety, scientific research, public education, housing assistance, and even government agencies like the Transportation Safety Administration.