Mr. President, Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Although President Trump rarely raises or addresses children’s issues, during his State of the Union address last Tuesday, there were a few occasions where kids were acknowledged. His most direct and pointed statement was when Trump said:
But as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers and America’s forgotten communities.
Seriously, that is a terrific statement. But, those words are meaningless unless they translate into policies that help and improve the lives of our nation’s children. So, how are the President’s policies for children?
Trump Proposed Divesting in Our Nation’s Children
First and foremost, a President’s budget can tell you a great deal. Former Vice President Joe Biden used to say and even tweeted:
Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.
In an annual analysis called Children’s Budget of the share of federal funding dedicated to children, President Obama repeatedly proposed increased investments in our nation’s children, including initiatives to improve children’s health, early childhood, education, and child nutrition throughout his eight years in office.
So, did President Trump’s first budget proposal reflect a similar “value” in investing in our nation’s children last year?
According to Children’s Budget 2017, funding for children would have dropped from 7.75 percent in FY 2017 to just 7.47 percent in Trump’s proposed FY 2018 budget — the lowest percentage in over a decade.
Fortunately, Trump has an opportunity to reverse course and live up to his stated concern about children when the President releases his FY 2019 budget proposal on February 12 — just days from now.
We would also urge him to push Congress to:
- fix the federal budget process and finalize this year’s budget without further delay, as it does real harm to children and the country is already more than four months into the current fiscal year without a budget agreement;
- lift the discretionary spending caps with parity between defense and non-defense discretionary spending;
- raise the allocations for congressional appropriations subcommittees that support programs designed to help our children succeed;
- protect mandatory spending programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP or food stamps) that invest in helping low-income children and families; and,
- provide immediate relief to the many families with children struggling to recover from various natural disasters.
Trump Opposed an Expansion of the Child Tax Credit to Protect Low-Income Working Families
In another test, Congress had the opportunity to make significant strides in providing tax relief to working families with children. Since the $1.5 billion package included significant cuts in corporate taxes and repeal of the personal exemption, which disproportionately hurt families with children, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed doubling the Child Tax Credit to $2,000 and to make it refundable against payroll tax liability.
In light of the repeal of the personal exemption, Sen. Rubio repeatedly noted that this was the only way to ensure that working families with children would be to double the Child Tax Credit and he reached out to the Trump Administration and the President’s daughter, Ivaka Trump, to request their support.
Providing significant tax relief to working families shouldn’t be a final box to check after all of the lobbyists have had their fill. As Congress works on a tax reform package, families must be our priority. We cannot lose sight of what should be the primary goal of tax reform for our time. . . Doing so would ensure that lower-income Americans will not be left out of the biggest legislative undertaking of this Congress.
Most important, expanding the child tax credit would align our nation’s tax code with what every parent already knows to be true: Raising children is the most important job we will ever have.
Despite support for the Rubio-Lee Amendment from his daughter Ivanka to help low-income working families with children, the President opposed it. Consequently, the Rubio-Lee Amendment failed in the Senate by a vote of 29–71.
The tax bill also failed children in a number of other ways. Ron Brownstein wrote in The Atlantic:
The House and Senate measures shower enormous benefits on households at the top of the economic ladder, a group that by all indications is older and whiter than the population overall. Then it hands the bill for those benefits largely to younger generations, who will pay through more federal debt; less spending on programs that could benefit them; and, eventually, higher taxes.
Trump Supported Billions of Dollars in Cuts to Children’s Health
As a candidate for president, Trump repeatedly promised to not cut Medicaid.
And yet, as the health debate dominated much of Congress’s attention throughout 2017, President Trump proposed significant Medicaid in his own budget.
Even worse, he supported the $700–880 billion in Medicaid cuts in the House and Senate health “reform” bills that disproportionately would have harmed children. In fact, according to a study by Avalere of the Graham-Cassidy bill that was supported by the President in the Senate, it was estimated that the bill would have cut Medicaid for senior citizens by 1.9 percent and for children by 31.4 percent over 10 years.
To compound the threat to children’s health, Trump also proposed billions of dollars in cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Not sure how any of that squares with the statement that his “greatest compassion and my constant concern is for America’s children.”
Trump Proposed Billions in Cuts to Education Programs
And last, in his speech, the President also said:
. . .let us invest in workforce development and job training. Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.
Again, that would be terrific, except for the fact that the President proposed cutting funding for vocation education in his FY 2017 budget proposal. As the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss writes:
Despite his stated enthusiasm for vocational training, his first proposed budget last year sought $168 million in cuts to grants that fund career and technical education programs in high schools. Congress balked at most of that request.
On a broader level related to children, the President also said:
I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.
Of course, if you want “our youth to grow up to achieve great things,” investing in their education would be a logical thing to do. Between 2011 and 2016, Congress slashed federal education programs on an inflation-adjusted basis by 17.3 percent. The President could have chosen to urge Congress to reverse course, but instead, his budget sought to double-down on the cuts.
In addition to the cuts he proposed for vocational education in his budget, the President proposed more than $9 billion in overall cuts to education programs. As Moriah Balingit of the Washington Post points out:
Trump seeks to slash $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, including after-school programs, teacher training, and career and technical education. His proposal calls for reinvesting $1.4 billion of the savings into promoting his top education priority: school choice, including $250 million for vouchers to help students attend private and religious schools. The net result would a 13.6 percent reduction in spending in the next fiscal year.
If we truly value our kids, we must invest in them and their future. Words alone are meaningless.
The President has two important opportunities to make his actions match his words. First, in the on-going discussions related to the FY 2018 budget, the President should support lifting the federal budget caps on non-defense discretionary programs. As 55 organizations in the Children’s Budget Coalition wrote:
There are approximately 200 programs that critically impact children in these spending bills with over 100 falling under the Labor-HHS spending bill. These programs are critical to assisting children and providing them with resources necessary to leading a long and productive life.
We cannot continue down this divestment path — our children deserve better.
Second, when he releases his FY 2019 budget on February 12, the President should direct his Administration to adhere to his words and hold the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) accountability to making investments in our nation’s children.
The President himself once tweeted:
Investing in our children would be something visionary because they are our future. Children also deserve better than mere words of support.