Trump budget: $4.1B for wall, deep cuts to State, Ag, EPA

Say hello to the wall, a bigger military, and more robust immigration enforcement. Say goodbye to subsidies for public broadcasting, the arts, and a lot of what the EPA does now. The White House has released its so-called “skinny budget,” and it has winners and losers. Supporters of the wall come out as big winners, The Hill reports:


President Trump will ask Congress for $1.5 billion this year to begin work on the wall he promised to build at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The money is part of a $30 billion supplemental spending request that’s being sent to lawmakers on Thursday, according to White House budget director Mick Mulvaney. …

Trump will also ask for $2.6 billion in funding for the wall in his fiscal year 2018 budget request, which is also being released Thursday.

That document is Trump’s “topline” budget for next year and doesn’t include projections over a decade. The full funding request for the wall could come as early as May, when the president releases his broader budget proposal.

The military gets its significant boost of $54 billion, Homeland Security’s budget goes up by 7%, and veterans get a 6% boost. According to Roll Call, though, the rest come out as mostly losers:

Among the hardest hit agencies under Trump’s “skinny” budget proposal are the State Department and EPA, which would see a 28 percent and 31 percent reduction from enacted levels, respectively.

Spending is also slashed at the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Labor, among others.

The plan calls for eliminating numerous programs and agencies like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and more.

NPR offers a handy chart:


The Washington Post adds the poor in with the losers, especially given the cuts at Ag:

Trump has said he wants to eliminate all disease, but the budget chops funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion, or close to 20 percent. He has said he wants to create a $1 trillion infrastructure program, but the proposal would eliminate a Transportation Department program that funds nearly $500 million in road projects. It does not include new funding amounts or a tax mechanism for Trump’s infrastructure program, postponing those decisions.

And the Trump administration proposed to eliminate a number of other programs, particularly those that serve low-income Americans and minorities, because it questioned their effectiveness. This included the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which disburses more than $3 billion annually to help heat homes in the winter. It also proposed abolishing the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides roughly $3 billion for targeted projects related to affordable housing, community development and homelessness programs, among other things.

The budget was stuffed with other cuts and reductions. It calls for privatizing the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control function, cutting all funding for long-distance Amtrak train services and eliminating EPA funding for the restoration of Chesapeake Bay. Job training programs would also be cut, pushing more responsibility for this onto the states and employers.

Pushing responsibility to states for all these purposes has been Republican doctrine for decades. Many of these programs started as part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society plan, but have produced not much more than stasis in these areas, in part (arguably, anyway) from a lack of accountability. Rather than have states and local authorities keep the resources and deal with problems that they know best, the federal government took over those tasks while taking the resources away, and then tried to apply one-size-fits-all approaches to them.


Republicans face a couple of problems in attempting to implement this paradigm shift now. First, states won’t necessarily get their resources back in the exchange, as the federal government will still need to fund its course of deficit spending, especially with entitlement reform on the back shelf. That leaves the vulnerable without much hope of a safety net. Second, it’s tougher politically to stop a federal program on which people depend than it is to not start it in the first place — a dynamic that will apply to entitlement reform too. Finally, while Republicans have talked plenty about deregulation and federalism, they haven’t won too many converts; it took a populist uprising rather than a conservative-federalist uprising to win the White House this time. The irony is that Trump’s budget takes the GOP much farther down that latter road than they’ve dared going themselves since Reagan.

In my column at The Week, I predicted that the budget fight will show whether Republicans decide to fight for their federalist vision, given Trump’s clear inclination in that direction:

Trump’s steep cuts have begun to open up fault lines on Capitol Hill, not just between moderates and conservatives but also between the House and Senate Republican caucuses. Representatives with federal operations in their districts have already begun to point out that some of the targeted programs provide employment and services for their own constituents. One aide called the proposal a “slash and burn” document, and told Reuters that the House caucus worries that they will be forced to back big reductions, only to have their feet cut out from under them by a far more moderate Senate proposal.

Those worries are not unsubstantiated, either. In the upper chamber, cuts to the State Department have already generated opposition among Republicans, including the man Trump most needs to seal the deal, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Even if Senate Republicans had more enthusiasm for the sharp spending cuts, they only have a slim majority. Democrats can use the filibuster on appropriations bills, which means that Republicans will have to compromise on spending levels enough to attract at least eight senators from across the aisle.

That may lead to a very unpleasant rift between the White House and Capitol Hill — or perhaps some satisfaction with incremental reductions in the budget process for the short run. Trump’s Cabinet officials can gradually roll back staffing levels through attrition while congressional Republicans mull just how far they can go on cutbacks, and offer more reversals of regulatory growth in the previous administration through the Congressional Review Act.

The Trump budget could just be a “big ask,” a technique in dealmaking that sets the parameters high enough for a stakeholder to maximize his potential successes. It’s almost certainly an acknowledgment that a generation or more of promises to start making real cuts in the establishment’s authority and power have to finally be honored, too. If Republicans can’t implement those promises over the next two years with single-party governance in Washington, they may not have it for much longer than that.


I’d bet on incrementalism as the response. The cuts to public broadcasting, EPA, and the NEA will almost certainly stick, but don’t expect to see the widespread cutbacks across all departments in the Congressional budget at the end.

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Jazz Shaw 8:31 AM on December 09, 2023