WASHINGTON — President Trump’s first formal budget proposal to Congress, one of the most ambitious ever proposed, seeks to “redefine the proper role” of the federal government by dramatically reducing its involvement in many domestic areas while boosting investments in security.
The proposal, dubbed the "America First" budget by the White House, increases defense spending by $54 billion and offsets that with cuts to non-defense spending, including steep cuts to education, environmental protection, health and human services, and foreign aid.
The military, meanwhile, would get more personnel, munitions, ships and fighters. "There is no question, this is a hard-power budget. It is not a soft-power budget,” said Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney. “And that was done intentionally. That’s what our allies can expect. That’s what our adversaries can expect.”
Under the blueprint scheduled for release Thursday, some agencies would be disbanded altogether, including those primarily responsible for supporting public broadcasting, legal aid and the arts.
Dozens of programs would be eliminated, including many with constituencies in states and cities across the country. They include community development block grants, community learning centers and low-income heating assistance.
The budget places a heavy emphasis on measurable results, and budget officials say those programs don't make the cut. The heating program is “unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes” and the community development block grant program is not "well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results," the budget says.
Programs supporting first-time home buyers, state and local affordable housing initiatives and neighborhood revitalization would be zeroed out. A job-training program for seniors would also be axed because one-third don't finish, and of those who do, "only half successfully transition to unsubsidized employment."
The budget also "returns the responsibility" for local environmental initiatives to state and local entities, cutting some $400 million for regional projects at the Environmental Protection Agency, including restoration of the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.
Some of Trump's domestic policy priorities would see increases, including school choice and charter school programs, and an additional $500 million would go to expand treatment, recovery and prevention of opiate abuse. There's also $2.6 billion for the proposed border wall and $314 million for immigration enforcement agents.
Mulvaney said that in addition to speaking with the president, budget staffers culled Trump's campaign speeches and other material in putting together the budget.
"If he said it in the campaign, it's in the budget," he said. "We wanted to know what his policies were. And we turned those policies into numbers."
The 2018 budget is for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. A separate 2017 supplemental request also being sent to Congress on Thursday asks for $15 billion more in spending this year. That proposal includes $30 billion in defense spending and $3 billion for the border wall, offset by $18 billion in cuts to other non-defense spending.
The budget proposed Thursday is a "skinny budget" — less detailed than most years because the Trump administration is just two months old. At 53 pages, Trump’s first budget is less detailed and comes later than similar first-year budgets by his predecessors. Stephen Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense noted that President Obama’s skinny budget was 140 pages, and George W. Bush’s was 175. Both were sent to Congress on Feb. 28.
Unlike full budget proposals, Trump's blueprint does not include tax proposals, long-term deficit projections or detailed staffing levels for every agency. Those will come in a more detailed budget proposal in May, Mulvaney said.
But he said there would unquestionably be fewer federal employees. "You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it," Mulvaney said.
Among the staffing changes in the blueprint budget are cuts of some 3,200 workers at the Environmental Protection Agency — roughly 20% of its workforce. "The president wants a smaller EPA," Mulvaney said. "He thinks they overreach and the budget reflects that."
The budget specifically proposes some new hiring: 1,500 new agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with 60 more prosecutors to back them up. Trump is proposing 40 new deputy U.S. marshals focused on criminal immigrants. And he wants 20 attorneys to defend his immigration executive actions in court, with 20 more to handle land acquisition for the border wall.
Trump's budget proposal effectively blows up the 2011 budget compromise known as the Budget Control Act, which imposed equal, across-the-board "sequestrations" of defense and non-defense spending that has largely held a budget armistice on Capitol Hill.
The proposal will surely face some resistance on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are responsible for passing the budget and spending bills. The president’s proposal is a starting point and, as with any president, a reflection of administration priorities and something of a wish list.
Mulvaney said he expects pushback, and the White House is open to negotiating with lawmakers, as long as he gets increases in spending on defense, law enforcement and border security without increasing the deficit.
“If they have a different way to accomplish that, we are more than interested in talking to them,” he said.
Some critics began blasting the blueprint before seeing what’s in it. On Wednesday, NDD United, a coalition of federal, state and local organizations, said the expected cuts in the proposal will “punish” millions of Americans, including Trump voters, who depend on federal funding and programs that have already endured years of cuts.
“You’re taking direct aim at the voters who pulled the lever for you because their economic situation worried them and they believed you’d help,” said Emily Holubowich, co-chair of NDD, which stands for Non-Defense Discretionary spending. “Instead, you’re pulling the rug out from underneath them.”
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