Trump’s Budget Guts Foreign Aid, Housing, Public TV, And The Environment

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Updated at 9:58 a.m. ET

The budget blueprint President Donald Trump released Thursday will slash more than a quarter of the budget of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, deeply cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and completely defund the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds National Public Radio and PBS. More cuts are proposed for public education, agriculture, public transportation, and food assistance for the poor.

The Trump cuts will help fund a proposed 10 percent increase in the Pentagon’s budget consisting of tens of billions of dollars, and a 6 percent increase in the budget of the Department Homeland Security, including $1.7 billion dollars to begin building Trump’s new wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump’s budget blueprint, titled “America First: A Budget to Make America Great Again,” faces many legal and political obstacles on its way to implementation, but the opening salvo suggests a new era of harsh austerity for nearly every sector of government outside of the military.

While nearly every domestic program and agency would feel the squeeze under Trump’s plan, none would be hit harder than the State Department, where the administration aims to cut 28 percent of funding.

“This is a hard power budget, not a soft power budget,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday. “We’re doing that intentionally. We want to project strength, so we’re moving funding from soft power programs in the State Department into hard power programs.”

The soft power programs on the chopping block include everything from the $30 billion spent annually on foreign aid to various global health initiatives to the thousands of Americans volunteering overseas in the Peace Corps.

“This is not a reflection of the President not believing in the State Department,” Mulvaney said. “The president believes very strongly in what [Secretary Rex] Tillerson is doing. What you’re seeing mostly reflects a reduction in foreign aid.”

Many Republicans have already come out against such a move and said it will not pass Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC). Graham told TPM the funding cut “makes us less safe and puts our diplomats at risk.”

“You need soft power to win the war,” he added.

Though Trump campaigned on promises to revitalize struggling inner-cities, his budget also proposes slashing billions of dollars in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We’re getting rid of programs that simply don’t work, and a lot of those programs are in HUD,” Mulvaney said Wednesday. “They have had some successes, but there are a lot of programs that simply can’t justify their existence.”

The proposal guts nearly $2 billion dollars from public housing, and ends most federal community development grants, which go to food assistance and programs to clean up abandoned properties in low-income neighborhoods. The plan also calls for cutting $300 million dollars from rental assistance payments —including housing vouchers for homeless veterans.

The Environmental Protection Agency will also be hit particularly hard, with more than quarter of its budget set for elimination, taking funding at the agency down to the lowest level in 40 years.

“We believe the core functions of the EPA can be satisfied with this budget,” Mulvaney reassured reporters Wednesday. “We’re giving them a tremendous amount of flexibility on how to implement these cuts.”

Though he would not answer specific questions about the cuts to the EPA, Mulvaney confirmed that going forward, “You will see a reduction in subsidies and participation in programs that don’t align with the president’s views on climate change.”

The President’s views on climate change have been all over the map. He has at times said it is hoax invented by the Chinese government, said he believes it is happening but is not caused by human activity, and said the scientific consensus on it is “bullshit.”

A host of federal programs are slated for complete elimination, including the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps impoverished families heat their homes in the winter, efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, the United States Institute of Peace, the Chemical Safety Board, and payments to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund.

All told, the plan recommends the elimination of several thousand of federal jobs across more than a dozen of agencies. Though the president has repeatedly vowed to create jobs, Mulvaney told reporters, “You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it.”

The budget blueprint allocates $1.7 billion dollars in 2017 for the U.S-Mexico border wall, which the Department of Homeland Security estimates will cost more than $21 billion dollars to complete.

“It’s all think we can spend this year,” Mulvaney said. “How many miles of the wall can that build? We don’t know yet. We’re looking at different kinds of barriers in different kinds of places. This allows us to start that program.”

Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promise to make Mexico pay for the wall is missing from the proposal.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) (pictured), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, told reporters on Wednesday that Trump’s proposed budget would “wreak enormous damage on the American people.”

“It will be extremely cold-hearted, but more importantly, it will jeopardize the health and safety of American citizens,” he said.

In order to pass a budget that massively hikes military spending while cutting domestic spending, Trump would have to convince Congress to vote to lift the spending caps imposed on both sides in 2011 by the Budget Control Act. Yarmuth said Democrats will stand united in opposition to such a move.

“We continue will fight for principle enunciated in the original Budget Control Act, which is to treat defense and non-defense discretionary spending the same way,” he said. “When we propose an alternative Democratic budget in the near future, those principles will be sustained.”

If the President and Congress can’t reach an agreement on federal spending levels by late April, the country is at risk of another government shutdown.

This is Trump’s full budget proposal, released at 7 a.m. on Thursday morning:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

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