The details were predictably hazy, but a policy picture is gradually emergingby George Magnus / March 1, 2017 / Leave a comment
Yesterday evening, President Donald Trump gave his first address to both Houses of Congress. It marked a significant change in tone from the “American carnage” motif of his inaugural address. It was altogether softer, more considered—even optimistic and presidential, according to the write-ups of political pundits. The reasons for this remain the subject of speculation, but his low approval ratings, a turbulent first few weeks in the White House, and the need to win over lukewarm friends in Congress must all have played a part.
The rhetoric on immigration, one of the administration’s core policy areas, was more mixed than screeching. The president expressed support for NATO, and didn’t even mention Russia or China. Not even mainstream media cropped up. Yet behind the softer colours of this address, there was still a strong sense of economic nationalism and assertion of US sovereignty that are the trademarks of his more ideological speech-writers and advisers in the White House.
If the speech was supposed to sketch the president’s core beliefs and direction of policy, it did no more than that. Details were for the most part absent. But over the last 24 hours or so, we have learned a little about the president’s intentions.
He wants to present to Congress a $54bn shopping list of extra defence spending, representing a 10 per cent increase over the budget cap currently set in law. This would take US defence spending back over $600bn, still lower than in the aftermath of the Iraq war, but 50 per cent more than at the time of the last trough in 2000. It would also be more than the entire defence budgets of the next seven biggest spenders combined—including China, whose spending is about a third of the US’. To win over Congress, the president will propose swingeing cuts in non-defence spending, including that of the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The funding wasn’t referred to in yesterday’s speech but will become a big issue in the next two months. Remember that 60 per cent of federal spending is mandatory. That is subject to law, and comprises Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. Squeezing the other 40 per cent to fund…