Of bombers and bake sales

Jewish Light Editorial

Remember that old bumper sticker that said:

It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

If Congress passes the federal budget proposed by the White House last week, that great day will seem further off than ever. The $1.1 trillion blueprint is titled “America First,” but the truth of that label depends on which Americans are affected.

Spending on the military and on border security are the big gainers in the plan. But those increases come at the expense of cuts or outright elimination in areas that cost taxpayers much less but can enrich their lives in ways that are hard to measure in dollars and cents.

Locally, reductions in scientific and medical research would be certain to affect Washington University and Monsanto, among others. Elimination of agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would mute public radio and television stations and gut budgets for cultural institutions.

A proposed 31 percent cut in the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency,  from an administration that disparages climate change, would hamstring efforts to cut power plant emissions and improve fuel efficiency. And schools and students would be hurt by the elimination of money for enrichment programs in poor areas and tuition assistance for higher education.

In one of the more callous, trickle-down defenses of the proposed cuts, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney called eliminating money for programs like Meals on Wheels “probably one of the most compassionate things we can do,” because it would ease the tax burden on poor single mothers in Detroit – as if one more bomber could feed the hungry. The benefit such a program provides is out of all proportion to its tiny portion of overall federal spending.

Given its wary reception on Capitol Hill, the budget may not get very far. Members of Congress, and their constituents who were decisive in November’s election, appear to be waking up to the fact that the programs to be cut are precisely the ones that benefit administration supporters.

But even if specific proposals stall, the mind-set that champions them will remain. Though private giving is not likely to replace the government support that has allowed many nonprofit agencies to thrive, donors may have to dig a little deeper, and budgets face big trims. Meals on Wheels already reports a surge in donations.

Meanwhile, better keep those bake sale fliers around for a little while longer.