The austere budget proposed by President Donald Trump on Thursday would take an axe to worker training and safety programs, prompting Democrats to accuse the White House of reneging on its promises to workers.
The Labor Department would be one of the top victims under the White House blueprint. The president is looking to slash the agency’s budget by 21 percent, from $12.2 billion this year to $9.6 billion next year. Only the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department would see greater cuts if Congress approved Trump’s plan.
Program cutbacks and closures would account for some of the $2.5 billion in lost funding. For example, the administration wants to eliminate a job training program for low-income senior citizens, calling it ineffective. It would also shut down youth training centers under the long-running Job Corps program.
The proposal would cut what are known as Harwood grants, which are doled out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The grants fund non-profits to train workers in dangerous jobs. Backers say the grants help save money by reducing costly on-the-job injuries and deaths.
The plan also eliminates grants that go toward training for workers with disabilities, a proposal that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said was particularly cruel.
“Not only is this an especially heartless component of this deeply ill-conceived budget,” Murray said in a statement, “but it is yet another clear example of President Trump breaking his campaign promise to stand with workers and create jobs.”
But the savings specified in the Trump blueprint from training cuts accounts for not even half of the proposed funding drop. So if the budget were enacted as is, it’s possible it would cut into other core missions as well ― inspecting workplaces for hazards, looking into allegations of wage theft and holding unscrupulous employers accountable when they endanger or cheat workers.
Jordan Barab, a former deputy director of OSHA under President Obama, said it’s hard to tell under the proposal how OSHA would be impacted. Its funding is relatively small compared to worker training, meaning it could be spared the brunt of the cuts. “That being said,” he added, “relatively small budget cuts can have a huge impact on the small agencies.”
On the whole, Trump’s budget would divert money away from basic government functions like those, steering it toward the military and a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the cuts would fall on the backs of poor people. If anything like it is approved by the Republican-controlled Congress, it would mark a historic shrinking of the federal government.
Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former labor secretary under Obama, said the Trump budget would “devastate” working families.
“Trump built his campaign on a mountain of populist promises, then he brought a swamp to Washington with an administration full of Goldman Sachs bankers,” Perez said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “Now he’s cutting after-school programs and college financial aid, gutting help for American manufacturing and slashing infrastructure investments that could create jobs in rural communities.”
Cuts at the EPA would be even more drastic than the Labor Department. The 31 percent proposed drop at the agency would leave less money to combat global warming, reduce pollution and enforce the country’s environmental laws. Meanwhile, entire programs in the arts and media would be eliminated wholesale, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, suggested Thursday that much of the non-defense spending was somehow a burden on poor and working-class people. “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no,” he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday. “We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
The National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers, said that Trump’s budget is “virtually a complete breach of faith with America’s workers,” violating his own campaign pledge to create good jobs and boost wages.
“It would walk us back decades on worker safety and health, including eliminating critical grant training programs to workers in the most dangerous jobs, leading to more injury, illness and death,” the group said.
The budget is ultimately hashed out by Congress, and even many Republicans will bristle at some of the cuts Trump has put on the table. But the budget blueprint is where talks begin between Congress and the administration. It always serves as a prime indicator of where an administration’s priorities lie and how it plans to govern.
Even if Trump’s proposal undermines certain campaign pledges, it suggests he intends to make good on others: to wipe out entire agencies and programs and dramatically reduce the role government plays in people’s lives and work.