The budget blueprint President Donald Trump released last week—which calls for gutting an array of domestic programs to finance a massive military spending bonanza—would have to clear many political and legal hurdles before becoming law.
But an additional unusual obstacle has emerged: pushback from members of his own party.
On Capitol Hill, the same Republicans who railed for years against President Obama’s spending priorities are being forced into an awkward position by Trump’s budget proposal: defending the Environmental Protection Agency, National Endowment for the Arts, and other federal programs, and decrying efforts to lavish money on the Pentagon.
Some Republicans in Congress dismissed Trump’s budget in its entirety, and emphasized that Congress is the branch of government with the ultimate say on what gets funded.
“Many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the President’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), the immediate past chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement Thursday. “We will certainly review this budget proposal, but Congress ultimately has the power of the purse.”
Rogers expressed particular displeasure at the President’s proposal to completely eliminate funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)—a program to assist poor communities in 11 states with fixing roads, training workers, opening health clinics, and meeting other needs.
“The Appalachian Regional Commission has a long-standing history of bipartisan support in Congress because of its proven ability to help reduce poverty rates and extend basic necessities to communities across the Appalachian region,” he wrote. “Today, nearly everyone in the region has access to clean water and sewer, the workforce is diversifying, educational opportunities are improving and rural technology is finally advancing to 21st Century standards. But there is more work to be done in these communities, and I will continue to advocate for sufficient funding.”
“I’m committed to continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie, including preserving this critical program and its funding,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), normally a staunch critic of federal spending.
Trump’s proposed cuts would hit the Environmental Protection Agency 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 consider that to be a waste of your money,” White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Thursday.
Amid this assault on environmental programs, a few Capitol Hill Republicans, led by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), are fighting their own party.
“A majority of the Climate Solutions Caucus, including the Republicans, are going to get on the record against these types of proposed cuts,” Curbelo told TPM on Friday. Ignoring the threat of climate change, he said, is “not dissimilar from ignoring our growing national debt and the implications it can have for younger generations of Americans.”
Curbelo says he plans to make the case to the administration that defunding programs to slow climate change will only cost the country more down the road.
“All I have to do is shine a light on South Florida,” he said. “You have cities like Miami Beach investing hundreds of millions of dollars in sophisticated pump systems just to prevent chronic flooding” as ocean levels rise as a result of climate change.
— Center on Budget (@CenterOnBudget) March 14, 2017
Even with the federal workforce already at a record low, Trump’s budget is calling for the largest elimination of federal jobs since the end of World War II. The suburbs around Washington D.C. would bear the brunt of these mass layoffs should they come to pass.
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), who represents a Northern Virginia district with a massive federal worker population, accused the president of attempting to “balance the budget on the backs of our federal employees.”
“The administration’s proposed cuts to funding for [the National Institute of Health], Chesapeake Bay cleanup, and our federal workforce, are just a few of the items inconsistent with our priorities,” she wrote.
Even before Trump’s budget saw the light of day, Republicans were sounding the alarm about the proposal to gut nearly a third of the State Department’s budget, targeting foreign aid and diplomatic work in particular.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warned that such a cut has no chance of passing Congress, and Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) have all warned against it. Graham told TPM the funding cut “makes us less safe and puts our diplomats at risk.”
Rubio echoed these concerns in a statement on Thursday. “These programs are integral to our national security, and cuts at these levels undermine America’s ability to keep our citizens safe,” he said. “In order to advance our national security interests, economic opportunity for our people and respect for human dignity everywhere, America’s leadership on the global stage is indispensable.”
While some Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate are complaining that the proposed $54 billion dollar increase in Pentagon spending is insufficient, others say it may be excessive.
“Just increasing military spending should not be what conservatives are about,” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) told reporters on Thursday. “We should make sure we’re using military spending wisely. We need to look at what exactly is being spent. Do we need as many generals as we have in the Pentagon? Do we have money going to unnecessary programs instead of going to the troops? We make a mistake as Republicans to say it’s okay to plus-up defense spending and decrease everything else. It’s a terrible mistake.”
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