The Trump administration is proposing dramatic cuts to the State Department as part of a budget blueprint that would ramp up defense spending and commit more than $4 billion for construction of a border wall with Mexico, setting up a battle with Democrats and potentially even fellow Republicans over government spending priorities.
In addition to a 28% reduction in the State Department’s budget, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies could also see double-digit percentage reductions in their funding under the administration’s plan, aides said Wednesday in previewing the budget.
President Trump’s budget reflects the realization of many promises that he made to voters in the campaign, seeking to add $54 billion to the Pentagon’s budget to be offset by cuts elsewhere, beginning with U.S. foreign aid. The government allocated about $28 billion for foreign aid and humanitarian assistance in the current fiscal year.
The spending plan seeks to slash even modest federal outlays, beginning the process of eliminating all funding to the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, for instance.
“You had an ‘America first’ candidate, you have an ‘America first’ budget,” said Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and a conservative former congressman from South Carolina. “We went looking for the most inefficient, most wasteful, most indefensible programs.”
Exact spending levels the White House is proposing in so-called discretionary programs for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 will be released later Thursday. A more detailed, line-by-line plan will come in May.
But the initial blueprint reflects long-held ambitions of conservatives eager to shrink the size and scope of the federal government, with one exception for the moment: spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that are among the biggest drivers of federal spending.
The latter point is where Trump, who pledged to protect and strengthen those entrenched safety net programs, differs most dramatically with a fellow Republican who has long pushed for a new approach, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
More immediately, the Trump administration’s plans for sweeping cuts in foreign aid may be dead on arrival with GOP lawmakers who stress the need for a more balanced approach emphasizing both military strength and a commitment to diplomacy.
“This is a hard power budget. It is not a soft power budget,” Mulvaney said. “The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this is a strong power administration.”
In addition to its spending plan, the administration plans to make a supplemental funding request that will include $30 billion for defense and border protection.
The administration is seeking $1.5 billion in the upcoming fiscal year and an additional $2.6 billion the following year to begin construction of the president’s signature border wall. Mulvaney told reporters the administration will use the funds in “different pilot cases” that will help determine the safest and most cost-efficient methods for securing areas along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Barriers including fencing are already in place along about a third of the 2,000-mile border.
Though the president had promised in his campaign to help revive inner cities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will see major spending cuts. So too will the Department of Transportation, despite Trump’s pledge to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
Mulvaney explained that the spending plan will still work to address Trump’s objectives in those areas, but that they can only be accomplished in part by eliminating programs that have failed to achieve those goals.
“One of the other things that the president said was that he was going to go after wasteful programs, duplicative programs, programs that simply don’t work. And a lot of those are in HUD,” he said. “A lot of the president’s other policies, education, for example, speak to his work that he wants to see done in the inner cities.”
Mulvaney also previewed “significant” reductions to the EPA that will target priorities of the Obama administration, including its Clean Power Plan, which was a core component of U.S. commitments as part of the landmark Paris agreement to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Based on early reports of potential cuts in various programs, Democrats are gearing up for a major fight. A memo from the Democratic caucus on the Senate Budget Committee, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), warned that Trump’s plan “would cause even more economic pain and suffering to the elderly, the children, the sick and the most vulnerable.”
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