Feb 10, 2020

What's really in the Trump budget?

What's really in the Trump budget?

Plus, a reader question about what Betsy DeVos has done.

Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter that offers both sides of the biggest news stories every day. If you found this online or someone forwarded you this email, please consider supporting balanced, independent journalism by subscribing below:

Sign up now

Today’s read: 7 minutes.

Trump released a new budget proposal, a question about what Betsy DeVos has done and an important story about the feds using your data.

Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 CPAC. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Biden campaign goes in.

Over the weekend, Joe Biden released an absolutely scathing ad comparing his record to Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s. The harshness of the ad reflects the reality that Buttigieg is a real threat to Biden’s campaign. It mostly draws on Biden’s experience on the global stage vs. Buttigieg’s experience in local politics.

What D.C. is talking about.

President Trump’s new budget. POTUS is expected to release the $4.8 trillion proposal at some point on Monday, and it’s his “path forward for a potential second term,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. On the numbers, the proposal will:

  • Increase military spending .3% to $740 billion for fiscal year 2021.
  • Reduce non-defense spending 5% to $590 billion, below what Congress agreed to last year.
  • Increase NASA spending 12% to $25.2 billion, one of the largest NASA spending increase requests ever.
  • Request $2 billion for new border wall construction (less than the $5 billion his administration has previously asked for).
  • Request $28.9 billion for the Pentagon to modernize our nuclear delivery systems.
  • Save $4.4 trillion in the next decade through rule changes that create work requirements for Medicaid and food stamps and make it more difficult for someone to access disability benefits. The administration also says it will save $130 billion after Medicare prescription drug pricing reductions.
  • Cut foreign aid by 21%, or $11.5 billion.
  • Cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 26%.
  • Cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget by 15%.
  • Cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget by 9%.
  • Cut student loan forgiveness funding by $170 billion.
  • Add $1 trillion of proposed spending on new infrastructure projects.
  • Add $15.6 billion in funding for the Customs and Border Protection agency.
  • Add $9.9 billion in funding for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  • Add $2.8 billion in homelessness assistance grants.

What the left is saying.

Jon Yarmuth, the Kentucky Democrat who chairs the House Budget Committee, said the budget proposal was “destructive and irrational” and added that it targeted “programs that help Americans make ends meet—all while extending his tax cuts for millionaires and wealthy corporations.” Centrally, the bill will be simultaneously cut safety net programs like food stamps, Medicaid and disability insurance while asking for billions of dollars for Trump’s ineffective border wall which in recent weeks has literally blown over in parts of California. Trump’s proposal to “balance the budget” is also a complete joke. He said he would eliminate the national debt in eight years when he campaigned in 2016. Instead, our deficit has grown to a trillion dollars every year. In the latest plan, he says the budget will be balanced by 2035, 11 years later than originally promised. But even that is optimistic and relies on assumptions about economic growth that are unlikely and assumes his tax cuts and other plans will stay in place. All of it is a total lie.

What the right is saying.

While the left hyperventilates over alleged cuts to Medicare, what Trump is actually calling for is waste-reducing cuts to Medicare that were also part of past Obama budgets. The budget doesn’t include any substantial reductions to benefits or eligibility like the real cuts Republicans proposed when they controlled the House of Representatives. Trump’s call to better fund the nuclear arsenal is not a sign of a burgeoning likelihood of war, either, but a reflection of the necessary advancement of our nuclear arsenal that continues to be ignored. "We keep putting Band-Aids over Band-Aids and now new systems are required," Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense budget expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told Axios. Eaglen added that our nuclear missiles and nuclear submarines have reached the “end of their service lives” and Trump is right to address this in the budget. His proposal to add huge amounts of funding to NASA, an organization crucial to space exploration, climate change study and the advancement of the newly formed Space Force, is also a sign of the president’s forward-thinking mentality on tech and space.

My take.

There’s always a huge overreaction to budget proposals like this. Unless the White House has both chambers of Congress, the way to think about a president’s budget proposal is more like a view of what direction they want to take the country. It’s really just a list of priorities. The cuts to food stamps and Medicaid and student loan forgiveness that Trump is proposing couldn’t even pass when Republicans controlled Congress — so they won’t sniff approval with Democrats in control of the House. Congress also just passed a two-year budget deal, which means Congress is most likely going to put off any new budget plans until after the 2020 election (they will pass short-term temporary spending bills instead). Despite that, I do think it’s worth noting that Trump has repeatedly promised not to cut things like Medicare and Medicaid, or says he is going to keep protections for pre-existing conditions, while simultaneously doing the opposite. If there’s one thing we can deduce from this proposed budget, it’s that Trump’s second term will absolutely include an effort to make cuts to social safety net programs. That’s not a very popular message for him to be running on in 2020 and it’s a bit confounding why he would promote this kind of budget right now.

Share Tangle!

Tangle is growing quick, and you’re some of the first subscribers in. But to keep it independent and ad-free, I rely on my subscribers to spread the word about this newsletter. If you like it, please consider forwarding this email to friends or posting about Tangle on social media with this link: /about

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Asking a question is easy. All you have to do is reply to this email and write in.

Q: In my Timehop on Facebook all the Betsy DeVos outrage recently popped up from three years ago. Can you please explain if any changes actually occurred over the past three years? Has she really changed anything?

- Darwin, Princeton, NJ

Tangle: My memory of Betsy Devos’s nomination to be the Education Secretary is one of the craziest early weeks of Trump’s administration. Of all the big stories that broke about him during that time, it remains the one where I felt the most palpable frustration and anger from his opponents — and even from other Republicans. Which is why this is such a worthy question to tackle.

First, the general consensus (so far) on DeVos’s tenure is that she has basically failed to get anything done. If you were opposed to her nomination, that’s probably good news. It doesn’t mean the anger or fear wasn’t justified if you felt that way — she’s certainly tried to do a lot of what she promised. But people who report on the Education Department closely have said her inexperience in government and general incompetence (along with that of the people around her) has kept some of her more ambitious goals from being realized.

For instance, DeVos proposed a $9 billion or 13 percent cut to the Education Department during her first year in office. This was a horrifying confirmation for a lot of people that she was hellbent on privatizing America’s education system. Her plan, though, was pretty much ignored by Congress — and the summer after she proposed it the budget for federal education actually went up by about $581 million. She’s also proposed redirecting federal funds to “school choice” programs in a way that would create grants for students to attend private schools. For a public education system already struggling to survive, this was seen as a dangerous proposal by a lot of people on the left — and it is yet to really come to fruition.

Put it this way: a lot of people who support DeVos’s views on how the education system should change have actually called on her to step down, saying her public gaffes, stream of negative press, conflicts of interest and other mishaps have harmed the reforms many on the right want to see in the education sector.

And yet, DeVos has still made some substantial changes to our country’s education department that have directly impacted consumers. Perhaps most notably, she’s moved to “deregulate” the for-profit college system. DeVos rolled back Obama-era rules that were designed to protect students who went to a school like Corinthian College or ITT Technical Institute that promised a 99% guarantee of getting a job. Often times, those jobs don’t materialize. Gainful employment regulations gave students a way to punish those schools for fraud — regulations DeVos has since eliminated. Most often, the schools preyed on veterans, minorities, single parents, or working adults who couldn’t afford or didn’t have the time for full-time university.

She also cut back on loan forgiveness programs that were helping students who attended colleges that closed or were accused of fraud. Via WBUR:

The other notable rule DeVos has laid out deals with loan forgiveness. Right now, if you were a student at an institution closed or accused of fraud, you might be eligible for student loan relief. Under DeVos' plan, students would no longer receive that help automatically, and could possibly be ineligible for any relief if the former school provided an option to complete the degree elsewhere. This new policy would reportedly save the government $12.7 billion over 10 years.

DeVos also pursued smaller policy shifts that have enraged the left. She famously changed the way campuses adjudicate sexual assault, reversing Obama-era rules that allowed disciplinary action against an accused student if there was a “preponderance of evidence.” DeVos’s rules call for all accused students the right to presumed innocence, the right to question their accuser in a hearing and certain due process provisions. Those rules drew more than 100,000 public responses on the government’s website. DeVos has also publicly supported schools who wanted to report undocumented immigrants to authorities and gave tepid support to the idea of federally funding schools buying guns and undergoing gun training for staff and teachers.

All told, DeVos has — so far — done a lot more to change the higher education system than the public K-12 system in America. But K-12 changes are starting to happen now, too. DeVos’s biggest win may have been the amendment slipped into Trump’s tax bill that will allow wealthy families to use 529 college savings plans to pay for private school from elementary school onward. The plans essentially allow $10,000 of tax-free withdrawals from savings plans that almost exclusively exist in wealthy homes. Public education advocates say not taxing that money is going to hurt the public education system the government is already struggling to fund.

In some sense, DeVos’s rather limited practical impact on K-12 schools is not a surprise. The federal government controls a small portion of the total K-12 public education budget — most of it is funded by individual states. But DeVos has absolutely pursued many of the policies people feared and has continued to be a symbol of change that the overwhelming percentage of public school teachers oppose. Many of the fears about her intentions and what she’d at least try to do were proven out, though none of her pie in the sky goals have really come close to being seen through. The conventional wisdom remains that a second term for Trump could open the door for DeVos to extend her push for more privatization, for-profit colleges and school choice in K-12.

I’d love to hear from some education experts, professors or teachers who read Tangle about how DeVos has improved, changed or negatively impacted your school. Feel free to write in! I can publish your thoughts anonymously or with attribution. Just reply to this email.

A story that matters

The federal government is using cellphone location data from common games and apps to locate, detain and deport undocumented immigrants. In order to leverage the data, the government has begun tracking millions of cellphones in America — getting access by purchasing the data from the owners of weather or gaming apps. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have used the data to help identify immigrants who were later arrested, sources told The Wall Street Journal. Experts say it’s one of the largest troves of bulk data being deployed by law enforcement in the U.S., and that the use of the data is on firm legal footing since the government bought it through commercial vendors the same way a private company could. WSJ has more here.


Last night, the Michelle and Barack Obama-backed documentary “American Factory” won an Oscar. It was the first documentary released by the Obamas’ new production company Higher Ground and it focused on the plight of American factory workers in Dayton, Ohio, the intersection of Chinese and American factories and the threat of automation and globalization. You can see the trailer below.


  • $188.4 million. The total amount of money Michael Bloomberg has spent on his campaign staff for president.
  • $167.5 million. The combined amount of money Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders have spent on their campaign staff for president.
  • $310.4 million. The total amount of money Michael Bloomberg has spent on digital and network advertisements for his campaign.
  • $115.3 million. The total amount of money every other candidate, including Trump, has spent on advertisements for their campaigns.
  • 6. The number of U.S. soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2020, after two were killed this week.
  • 15%. The percentage of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who expressed “confidence” in Vladimir Putin in 2014.
  • 31%. The percentage of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who expressed “confidence” in Vladimir Putin in 2019.
  • 225,000. The number of jobs the U.S. economy added in January, far more than economists had predicted (161,000).
  • 64.9 degrees. The temperature, in Fahrenheit, at Antarctica’s northern tip this weekend, a new record that scientists say is a dangerous sign of climate change.

Have a nice day.

After a decade of stagnation, black workers’ wages are finally rising. America’s record-long economic expansion and historically low unemployment rates are finally catching up to workers who have struggled to see the benefits of a growing and thriving economy. A New York Times analysis found that black workers’ wages are finally accelerating after lagging behind for most of the economic expansion that began under President Obama. Still, the Times’ reporters write, “A malignant reality lurks beneath the happy surface as black workers finally make job market progress. Not only did the gains take a decade of steady job growth to materialize, but they could evaporate at the first sign of economic weakness, as they did after previous expansions.” You can read the good news here.

Don’t forget.

Tangle hits your inbox Monday through Thursday, plus special editions and deep-dive interviews. It’s ad-free, independent and non-partisan, and it can only grow with the help of readers. Please consider sharing Tangle with friends by forwarding this email or pressing the button below and asking folks on social media to sign up.

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 100,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!