President Trump’s FY 2018 budget request may be DOA in Congress, but it nonetheless offers critical insight into how he expects to pay for his border wall, increase defense spending, offer up a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, and carry out his other pet projects, all while cutting corporate taxes. The bottom line is that he intends to eliminate some public programs and rob many others, and give that money to private corporations. The Trump budget proposal to slash funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compared to the FY 2016 appropriations is a perfect example, although he’s proposed similarly drastic cuts, unfortunately, to many other non-defense programs in the budget.
While OSHA would suffer less drastic cuts than some other agencies, the targeted precision of these cuts—focused squarely on programs with such direct positive effects for workers—disproves Trump’s claim to be a president for the working class. Here are just a few examples of pro-corporation cuts to OSHA’s budget that Trump proposed compared to the enacted budget for FY 2016:
- Occupational Safety and Health Standards Development: $2 million cut. This cut is proposed despite Trump’s anti-regulatory executive orders imposing major new time-consuming and resource-intensive constraints on agency rulemaking. We weren’t likely to see any new rules out of Trump’s OSHA to begin with, but this cut would be a blow to the long-term work that might have one day led to improved exposure limits for workplace chemical exposures or standards to promote safe patient handling or prevent workplace violence.
- OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program: $2 million cut. This means OSHA will have fewer resources to pursue cases on behalf of workers who are fired or retaliated against by an employer for taking a statutorily-protected action, such as raising a health or safety concern. Without OSHA’s support, many workers have no other recourse.
- OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program: $11 million cut. The entire budget for these training grants, which go to nonprofits to train workers on their right to a safe workplace, is $11 million, meaning Trump requests Congress wholly eliminate the program.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the federal law that created OSHA, was enacted to address a growing number of workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses and to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.” Thanks to OSHA, the number of workplace fatalities has declined drastically since 1970, from roughly 38 to 13 deaths per day: OSHA has also prevented thousands of injuries and illnesses, and the medical and emotional costs associated with them. Of course, more work always remains to be done, which should translate to increasing OSHA’s funding.
But despite the massive return on investment that OSHA has provided to the public over the past several decades, the Republican Party has continuously cut the agency’s funding and challenged its authority to the point that it now struggles to carry out even its basic operations. Why? Because many businesses simply don’t want to be bothered with implementing safety and health measures (or any safeguards for that matter) or paying penalties when they skirt the rules.
Many of these businesses are also hoping that across-the-board budget reductions to discretionary programs will open the door for corporate tax cuts, which would not only reduce their tax burden, but effectively make the budget reductions permanent by choking off the revenues that would otherwise fund OSHA and other protector agencies. Unfortunately, if they get what they want—inflated profit margins and big bonuses for CEOs—the public will pay for it. Trump’s FY 2018 budget request seeks to make this big business dream a reality. In other words, he’s chosen corporate profits over working families. When agencies like OSHA can’t enforce the law because of budget cuts, more people are bound to be injured and forced to rely on other government programs for support.
Trump’s budget request is bad for working families. And while its prospects for passage aren’t good as now written, it will undoubtedly pull the budget debate to the right, allowing Republicans to argue over the size of cuts, rather than thoughtfully deliberating over the appropriate level of funding protector agencies require to safeguard our health, safety, and environment. Moreover, we’re likely to see many of these corporation-first policies again, as Trump and his allies look to steal funding from public programs so that it can be doled out to the moneyed business interests that bankroll their campaigns.
For more on Trump’s proposed cuts to other programs that protect workers, check out the Confined Space newsletter by Jordan Barab, former Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA.