Trump Budget Cuts Draw Fire From Both Sides

By Nancy Ognanovich

President Donald Trump’s plans to submit a budget this spring that boosts federal spending on defense but deeply cuts money for domestic programs concern Democrats and Republicans alike, particularly appropriators who would be charged with implementing the reductions across the board.

Democrats said they aren’t opposed to Trump’s plan to boost money for Pentagon programs by $50 billion next year but won’t be able to back the increase if the president insists they accept a similar reduction among non-defense programs.

Democrats can’t support Trump’s plan “to cut $54 billion—the equivalent of the increase in defense—from just domestic discretionary spending, and then take large chunks of that off the table, [including] veterans and security, just to have massive and devastating cuts in key programs like education and medical research,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

“I think both Democrats and Republicans are going to run away from it,” he said.

Schumer spoke a day after the White House announced Trump plans to send to Congress a fiscal year 2018 budget this spring that will boost defense spending but significantly cut non-defense programs. The plan described by new White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney calls for lifting the threat of sequestration for the Pentagon but not for domestic programs.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also threw cold water on plans to cut the State Department budget, which he himself oversaw when he chaired the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, and warned the White House that spending bills can’t get through the chamber without Democratic support.

When asked whether the Senate could pass a budget that deeply cut diplomatic programs, McConnell said, “Probably not. When we get to funding the government, obviously, it will be done on a bipartisan basis.”

Appropriators Scramble to Finish Bills

Word that Trump may propose deep cuts in the programs under their jurisdiction came as House and Senate appropriators are scrambling to try to finish the fiscal year 2017 spending bills and get them to Trump’s desk by April 28.

Appropriators are fighting speculation that Republican leaders may drop plans to bring them to the floor beginning next month and instead resort to a third stopgap to fund the government for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

At the same time, House Appropriations Committee members are beginning days of hearings on members’ own requests for more federal money in the FY 2018 bills the panel will write this spring.

Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-Texas) said—after hearing from more than 15 lawmakers that more federal support is needed for domestic programs they favor—that the Trump administration needs to look at the mandatory side of the budget if it is serious about cutting the federal deficit and debt. That, he said, means reining in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“Those mandatory programs are devouring a larger and larger share of revenue,” Culberson said, when asked about the president’s budget request. “Thirty cents out of every federal dollar goes to annual appropriated operations of the federal government. The other 70 cents goes right out the door to these mandatory programs.”

Culberson, whose subcommittee has jurisdiction over programs ranging from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also said Congress ultimately sets the spending levels.

“You remember the president’s budget is a proposal, a recommendation,” Culberson said.

Culberson’s panel was asked by lawmakers to fully fund the legislation passed last year to provide states with more resources to deal with the opioid crisis, combat sex trafficking and carry out the Violence Against Women Act. The subcommittee was urged not to “go backwards” and keep funding stable for the National Science Foundation.

Later in the day, Interior-Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) heard from 17 different lawmakers from both parties on their requests for items to be funding through the 2018 bills.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), both strong Trump backers, asked the panel to provide more resources to domestic programs they favor. Chaffetz argued in favor of programs used on American Indian lands in his home state and Rooney told the panel there are $7 billion in incomplete projects that are needed as part of the Everglades restoration plan.

Calvert also was urged to provide more money for the Great Lakes Restoration Project and said that is likely to happen—regardless of the Trump budget request.

“There’s a lot of members on the committee from the Great Lakes, so I suspect we’ll continue to do that,” Calvert told Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.).

Schumer said the Trump team’s move on the budget makes the president look “incompetent.”

“Donald Trump is showing himself not to understand how to get anything done,” Schumer said.

Quid Pro Quo on Defense

McConnell echoed current State Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who argued that State programs already have been “cut to the bone” and can’t be supported with less money.

"[S]peaking for myself, the diplomatic portion of the federal budget is very important and you get results a lot cheaper, frequently, than you do on the Defense side,” said McConnell, who retains his senior spot on Appropriations.

However, the Republican leader said Trump doesn’t necessarily know his stance on the matter.

“We haven’t discussed it,” McConnell said.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who also is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said Democrats share Republicans’ concerns about the state of the military.

“Readiness is really suffering through sequestration and budget cuts,” Durbin told reporters. “But unless there is some kind of parallel investment on the non-defense side, many of us are going to resist it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.