Trump 'blueprint' budget cuts domestic spending, boosts security
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March 17--WASHINGTON -- A budget proposal by President Trump that would slash domestic programs, singling out the environment for its harshest cuts while boosting military spending and setting aside money for a border wall, met a tepid welcome from Capitol Hill Republicans and outrage from Democrats, indicating that the most conservative budget blueprint since the Reagan administration may never be enacted.
The document, called, "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again," would also dramatically reduce funding for American diplomacy, scientific research, climate programs, the arts, low-income housing, disease research and public lands. The budget pours the savings into military and security programs, including detention centers for immigrants who are in the country without documentation, and puts down $2.6 billion as an initial payment on an estimated $30 billion wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
The document reflects Trump's basic governing priorities, carrying out what senior White House adviser Steve Bannon called "the deconstruction of the administrative state." The administration's allies on the right, such as the Club for Growth, hailed the spending cuts, but protests came from everywhere else -- from cancer advocates to the tech industry.
Democrats did not hold back.
"This is the most draconian budget I've ever seen proposed by a president," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. She called the plan "an absolute travesty for California and every state or community that thought they had a true partner in the federal government."
Feinstein accused Trump of betraying his promises to invest in the nation's communities and infrastructure, and noted the budget will do nothing to reduce the deficit, a key Republican goal. Instead, she said, the plan "goes after the only category of federal spending that has been shrinking in recent years -- nondefense discretionary spending."
Trump, she said, "does not seem to understand" that these programs comprise a small share of the budget.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, independent-Vt., called the plan "morally obscene." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said it "should never see the light of day."
Signaling that Republicans want major changes too, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the budget merely an initial gesture, "the very beginning of a long process."
And the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton (Orange County), said he was "very concerned that deep cuts to our diplomacy will hurt efforts to combat terrorism and distribute critical humanitarian aid." In the Senate, some Republicans had already dismissed cutting existing programs to pay for the wall.
The administration's plan to eliminate funding for restoration of the nation's major water bodies, from the Great Lakes to San Francisco Bay, met rebukes from both sides of the aisle.
Presidential budgets serve primarily as an outline of administration priorities and a request to Congress, which has exclusive authority over spending and taxes.
"The president's budget expresses his priorities, and we will consider them, but it is the congressional budget and appropriations committees that will establish our priorities and fund them over the coming months," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
A key problem for the administration is that its budget plan assumes repeal of a 2011 budget law known as the sequester that caps both military and domestic spending. Republicans have a 52-48 Senate majority, eight shy of what they'll need to break a Democratic filibuster to lift those caps.
Domestic discretionary spending includes everything that is nonmilitary except entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The plan would limit spending to just 3 percent of the economy, its lowest share since 1962, said Robert Greenstein, head of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In the preface to the budget plan, Trump said "our aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demand of our citizens -- a government that puts the needs of its own people first.
"When we do that, we will set free the dreams of every American, and we will begin a new chapter of American greatness," he said.
Reflecting what he described as "these dangerous times," the budget proposed raising military spending by 10 percent and would offset it at the expense of domestic programs that have already been squeezed by seven years of budget austerity under the sequester. The Environmental Protection Agency takes the biggest hit, losing 31 percent of its funding.
The blueprint calls for eliminating programs across the government. Among the programs that would no longer get federal funding are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Energy Star program that boosts the efficiency of household appliances.
Trump has promised a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, but his budget would trim existing programs, including a $1 billion cut to the Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates flood control projects for dams such as Oroville.
"We are going to do more with less, and make government lean and accountable to the people," Trump said in the preface.
Dubbed a "skinny budget," the document contains little detail on how the cuts to Cabinet agencies will translate to specific programs. The cuts cover only a third of the government's actual budget, leaving out the largest areas of government operations: taxes and entitlements.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, acknowledged the lack of detail, promising a complete budget in May. He said the budget streamlines overlapping programs or those that have not proven their effectiveness, taking a "business person's approach" to finding efficiencies.
Climate change initiatives fall into the category. "We're not spending money on that anymore," he said. "We consider that to be a waste of your money."
In preparing the plan, Mulvaney said he pored over Trump's campaign promises and spoke with the president to set the administration's priorities.
This budget plan, he said, "is the message the president wants to send" to the public, adding it will be up to Cabinet secretaries to carry out the broad cuts outlined for their agencies.
"There's no question this is a hard-power budget," Mulvaney said. "It is not a soft-power budget."
Trump "clearly wants to send a message to adversaries and allies" alike that the United States wants to project military might, not diplomacy, overseas, he said.
Although it is called a skinny budget, the document is unusually skimpy on details and is arriving a month later than those submitted during the first year by the past five administrations.
"This is not a budget," said Stan Collender, a former top congressional budget staffer now at the public relations firm Qorvis MSLGROUP. "It's a Trump campaign press release masquerading as a government document."
Next to the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department would take the biggest cuts at 29 percent. The Department of Interior, which overseas the national parks, would be cut more than 10 percent at a time when the parks have a $12 billion maintenance backlog.
California would stand to take major hits across the board, with big unspecified cuts in Energy Department research that are likely to hit the Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories. Coastal programs would be axed across the board.
Environmental groups described the cuts as more severe than those of the early Reagan administration, many of which met stiff resistance in Congress and were ultimately reversed. "This is a declaration of war against the environmental and conservation functions of the federal government," said David Goldston, head of advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The document covers fiscal year 2018, which takes effect Oct. 1, and does not address this year's spending. A temporary measure to fund the government expires in late April and must be renewed to avoid a government shutdown.
Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle's Washington correspondent. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @carolynlochhead