Compassion and the FY2018 Budget

Photo Credit: Washington Examiner

On May 23rd, there was a Press Briefing for the Budget of the U.S. government for the new fiscal year. Director John Michael Mulvaney briefly articulated the various elements of the budget and answered questions about this new development from President Trump’s administration. Just like all of the past movements of this administration, there is plenty of noise in favor and against this budget plan with its major cuts for healthcare and education, especially toward programs that assist underprivileged citizens of the country, to the $52 billion increase for the Department of Defense.

During the briefing, Director Mick Mulvaney mentioned that he received questions about compassion on an off-camera briefing about the FY2018 budget the day before. This comment is very interesting because there is no mention of the word “compassion” in any of the questions posed to Director Mulvaney. However, there were many questions about the impact that the budget would have on many families in America regarding the healthcare, immigration, and education policy reforms. In the briefing on May 23rd, Director Mulvaney pre-emptively defended himself and the Trump administration and clarified that the budget plan is an act of compassion for tax-paying Americans. He stated:

I got a couple questions yesterday — I know I will today — about compassion.  Compassion needs to be on both sides of that equation.  Yes, you have to have compassion for folks who are receiving the federal funds, but also you have to have compassion for the folks who are paying it.  And that is one of the things that is new about this President’s budget.

Director Mulvaney reflected the perspective of the Trump administration in articulating the notion that there is a systemic hierarchy of who should receive financial support from the government. According to the contents of the FY2018 budget and the Press briefing, it is clear that the priority of support and aid is not placed on the need of those that are most vulnerable in the country under the rationale that these persons in the country are detrimental to the economic development of the country. Among those particularly targeted by the Trump administration are refugees and immigrants that are displaced from their homelands and seek new hope for their families in the United States. Those that are to receive support from the new budget are tax-paying citizens exclusively.

I don’t think there is a problem with a political agenda that seeks economic stability and creates a margin for tax dollar spending limiting it to those that pay taxes. My issue is with the introduction and use of the word “compassion” in this discussion. Compassion, as defined by our friends at Oxford, is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Etymologically it literally means “to suffer with” (from the Latin: com “with/together,” and pati “to suffer”). If we are going to speak about compassion, it seems that the systemic hierarchy of where the governmental support is aimed must be to those who are the most vulnerable in the country, which in our current reality tends to be underprivileged families, refugees, and immigrant families. If compassion is going to be a criterion for the FY2018 budget, it is very difficult to justify the priority in the Department of Defense, and the cuts for vital education and healthcare policies.

Director Mulvaney later attempts to qualify his statement about compassion stating, “We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs.” This statement is closer to the meaning of compassion, however the documentation of the budget does not reflect this criterion as the goal of the budget reforms:

America’s immigration policy must serve our national interest. The Budget supports commonsense immigration standards that protect American workers, reduce burdens on taxpayers and public resources, and focus Federal funds on underserved and disadvantaged citizens. (15)

In this introduction to the Reform of the Immigration Policy in the FY2018 Budget document, the criterion is not compassion. The criterion is national interest, which can be debated on a purely political level. The problem is that the Trump Administration wants to introduce notions of compassion, as though the rationale behind this budget is concern for those who are in most need in the country. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops issued a letter to Congress regarding the Federal Budget. They pointed out that:

Sharp increases in defense and immigration enforcement spending, coupled with simultaneous and severe reductions to non-defense discretionary spending, particularly to many domestic and international programs that assist the most vulnerable, would be profoundly troubling.  Such deep cuts would pose a threat to the security of our nation and world, and would harm people facing dire circumstances. When the impact of other potential legislative proposals, including health care and tax policies, are taken into account, the prospects for vulnerable people become even bleaker.

What is at stake is the long-term economic goals that the Trump administration envisions and is working at making the difficult decisions to safeguard the future of this country juxtaposed with the current needs of those suffering in our country that lack the basic needs to live with dignity. I think it is necessary to affirm the positive cuts to programs and reductions that may help in the long-term economic goals that the Trump administration has for the country, however, I believe it is also necessary to point out the flawed priorities that the Trump administration has revealed in the excessive spending for the DOD and the lack of compassion for those that are living in our country.