What makes a nation great?
Is it a surging stock market that keeps going up, up, up?
A glowing jobs outlook from the captains of industry?
A robust housing market that continues to grow steadily?
But what about a nation’s commitment to its weakest, most vulnerable citizens? We’d argue that a truly great nation doesn’t forget its poor, disadvantaged and disabled. Furthermore, we’d argue that a civilized nation, a great nation, doesn’t turn its back on the arts. Or the environment.
Sadly, this is what’s happening.
President Donald Trump’s budget proposal last week left us shaking our heads. His plan would slash spending on or fully eliminate dozens of social service, environmental, educational, scientific research and arts programs. The Environmental Protection Agency alone would see a 31.4 percent reduction in its budget.
As outlined Thursday, Trump’s vision for America calls for a widespread shifting of money from our poorest citizens to our wealthier ones. It’s that obvious.
The president, for example, wants to cut federal funding for Meals on Wheels, a program that provides daily meals to millions of low-income seniors across the country. He’s also targeting federal programs that deliver after-school food aid to low-income children. Why don’t we just push them off a cliff or kick them in the shins? Who needs ‘em?
But shortchanging the neediest isn’t merely a failure to govern with compassion. It’s wrong-headed in terms of the cost to America. In the long run, programs to help needy seniors and hungry youths actually save money. Keep a poor senior in his home, and he stays out of a costly nursing home. Feed a poor child and you increase his chances that he’ll stay in school and make something of himself. Ideally, he stays out of the criminal justice system and stays in school and eventually a job. Win, win, win.
Trump’s budget proposal is all the more troubling on the heals of Republican health-reform proposals. Under GOP plans to replace the federal Affordable Care Act, some lower-income Americans would see their healthcare subsidies shrink while some wealthier people who don’t qualify for help under Obamacare now would get tax credits, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Fortunately, Trump’s budget unveiling drew the ire of Democratic and some Republican lawmakers alike. Both parties in Congress will have their say in the budget-making process.
“Our budget is supposed to reflect our values,” said local U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko in a statement. “Sadly, this document proposes taking the most from the people that can afford it the least. I stand opposed to such callous and reckless cuts, and I believe the American people will as well.”
Even Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, a rising star in the GOP who represents New York state’s North Country, denounced Trump’s proposal.
“While there are savings to be found in every federal agency, I do not support the President’s initial budget proposal, especially the proposed cuts to the State Department, the Department of Education, and the EPA,” Stefanik said in a statement.
The coming weeks and months in Washington will be interesting. Was the president’s budget merely a negotiating tactic (aim high and you’ll have plenty of room to negotiate)? Or does the president genuinely believe that America’s return to greatness can be achieved only by taking from the poor, from the arts community, from our environmental-protection efforts?
We see it the other way around. A great and strong America is an America that, among other things, looks out for its weakest, protects its environment and encourages artistic pursuits.