Trump's Military Budget

President Trump's federal budget plan would greatly increase military spending, and slash spending for other programs. Students explore the budget with a quiz, readings, and discussion.  


1. Which of the following countries spends more on defense than the United States?

a) Soviet Union

b) Saudi Arabia

c) China

d) North Korea

e) None of the above

f)  All of the above

Answer: E - none of the above

2. The federal budget is composed of two parts. Which two parts?

a) federal and state

b) helpful and hurtful

c) mandatory and discretionary

d) ebullient and perfidious

e) executive and legislative

f) none of the above

Answer: C - mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory spending accounts for two-thirds of the federal budget, including Social Security, for example, and Medicaid, the federal program that provides health insurance for low-income people.  Spending for such programs is not allocated annually and can only be changed by law. President Trump's budget proposal is only about discretionary spending.  His proposal marks the beginning of the yearly fight over the use of these funds.

3. True or False?  The federal government may not spend more money than is collected in taxes for that particular year.

Answer: False—The amount not covered by taxes is the deficit, which is paid for by borrowing.

4.  How high does the U.S. rank when it comes to giving foreign aid to developing countries? (This is measured by the percentage of total economic output a country devotes to foreign aid, using numbers from 2015.)

a) 20th

b) 101st

c) 1st

d) 2nd

3) 3rd

Answer: A - The U.S. is ranked 20th, according to the OECD. The U.S. spends .17% of our total economic output on development assistance.


5. True or False?  President Trump's budget outline calls for stopping payment to the UN's climate change programs.


Next, ask students to read the material below silently, or have volunteers read sections out loud while others read along.


What is the federal budget?

The federal budget is a plan on how to allocate the 3 to 4 trillion dollars that the U.S. government spends each year. Though the Constitution gives spending authority to the Congress, the procedure, as it has evolved, now has the president beginning and ending the budget process:

  1. The President submits a budget  proposal to Congress, outlining the administration's priorities.
  2. Committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate work out their own budgets. Each house passes a budget separately and a committee works out the differences between the different versions. The House and Senate then pass one single budget.
  3. The President signs or vetoes the bill. 

President Trump's Budget

On March 16, 2017, President Trump released his budget outline.  Though it was skimpy on details (a fuller outline is expected in May), the priorities were clear.

"I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history."

— President  Trump, addressing Congress on March 1, 2017

Here is what the outline proposes:

  • 10% increase  (52 billion dollars) in military spending
  • 6% increase in spending on Veterans' Affairs
  • 7% increase in Homeland Security
  • 31% decrease in environmental protection
  • 29% decrease for the State Department (foreign affairs, including diplomacy) and foreign aid
  • approximately 20% cuts in the Departments of Agriculture, Labor, and Justice
  • 12% to 16% cuts in the Departments of Education; Health and Human Services; Commerce; Transportation; Housing; and Interior (caretaker of federal lands)

Opponents of Trump's priorities point out that the United States spends more on its military than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. (These seven countries are, in order of spending: China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan.)

The U.S. spends about four times the amount China does on its military, and about nine times more than Russia. The combined military budget of the United States and its closest allies (members of NATO) represents over 70% of all military spending in the world.

Critics also note the actual harm that will result from Trump’s drastic cuts to domestic spending. For example:

  • Cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency will result in faster climate change, dirtier water and air, and species loss.
  • Cuts to the Community Development Block Grant Program would cut support for hundreds of local non-profit agencies that serve low-income children and senior citizens.
  • Foreign aid is specifically targeted. These cuts will affect aid to millions of refugees, help for famine-struck countries, and other aid for developing nations.
  • The Health and Human Services Department will see cuts for energy assistance programs for the needy, and a $6 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health.
  • The Education Department cuts will reduce or eliminate after-school and before-school programs, summer school programs, financial aid for college students, and work-study funds for college students.

President Trump explained the steep increase in military spending as necessary to defeat ISIS, improve troop readiness and build more ships and planes. During the presidential campaign and afterwards Trump has said that the U.S. military is "depleted" and "gutted." He has accused the Obama administration of neglecting national security. Some Republicans think there should be even greater increases in military spending. Sen. John McCain, a leading voice for military spending, has proposed an increase of about $40 billion more.


For Discussion

1.  What  are the top military threats that the United States faces? 

2.  Are there non-military means to facing those threats?

3.  Read the following quote from ? Rajon Memon  writing in Nation Magazine.

 ?...[Trump], like his predecessors, steers clear of a definition of "security" that would include the workaday difficulties that actually make Americans insecure. These include poverty, joblessness or underemployment, wages too meager to enable even full-time workers to make ends meet, and a wealth-based public school system that hampers the economic and professional prospects, as well as futures, of startling numbers of American children. To this list must be added the radical dangers climate change poses to the health and safety of future citizens.

Do you agree that "national security" should include more than just military security?

4.  Do you know where your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative stand on increasing the military budget? How can you find out? 

5.  How might you exert pressure on them to vote the way you think they should?

6. President Trump insists that these budget priorities are why people voted for him in November. Do you agree or disagree?