- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2017

In his first major address to Congress, President Trump will deliver a prime-time “message to the world” Tuesday night by proposing a robust military buildup and corresponding cuts in foreign aid, State Department operations and domestic programs.

The president will ask a joint session of Congress to boost national security spending by $54 billion, an increase of about 10 percent, to rebuild what Mr. Trump calls the “depleted” military, and to hire more Border Patrol agents and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

“This budget will be a public safety and national security budget,” Mr. Trump said Monday, giving a preview to the nation’s governors during a White House meeting. “This is a landmark event, a message to the world in these dangerous times, of American strength, security and resolve.”

By proposing a corresponding $54 billion cut in non-defense programs, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said, Mr. Trump is calling for “the largest proposed reduction since the early years of the Reagan administration.”

“It is a true ‘America First’ budget,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “It prioritizes rebuilding the military, including restoring our nuclear capabilities, protecting the nation and securing the border, enforcing the laws currently on the books, taking care of vets and increasing school choice.”

A senior White House official said Mr. Trump’s speech will be about “economic opportunity and protecting the American people.”


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The official said much of the speech, which was still being written Monday night, was influenced by the president’s listening sessions in the past month with health care industry leaders, law enforcement officials, coal miners and other workers.

Mr. Trump will devote the first part of his speech to “promises made and promises kept,” the official said.

Coming on the 40th day of his presidency, Mr. Trump’s speech also presents an opportunity for him to clarify and give momentum to his plans for repealing and replacing Obamacare, cutting taxes and spurring economic growth.

In other years, the presidential speech to lawmakers is known as the State of the Union address. Although Mr. Trump had an abbreviated time frame to prepare the speech this year, he will confront many features of the traditionally partisan spectacle, including an openly hostile Democratic caucus, some 60 members of which who boycotted his inauguration.

Rep. Judy Chu, California Democrat, announced that her guest in the visitor’s gallery Tuesday night will be Sara Yarjani, an Iranian graduate student who was temporarily barred from entering the U.S. last month after Mr. Trump issued an executive order on extreme vetting of travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Progressive groups also geared up their opposition to Mr. Trump’s proposed budget cuts, after eight years of working with a Democratic White House that offered a mostly sympathetic ear at budget time.

“A budget is a statement of priorities, and with this proposal, Trump is telling America he doesn’t care about what happens to children who are forced to drink toxic water and breathe polluted air,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “Trump’s budget guts the Environmental Protection Agency — the only federal agency charged with keeping our air and water clean — starves our cherished parks and threatens our wildlife.”

The advocacy group ONE, which focuses on combating poverty and diseases, said Mr. Trump’s proposed cuts to foreign aid are alarming.

“It’s also especially ironic,” said Tom Hart, the group’s executive director for North America. “If your goal is to increase our national security, cutting our foreign assistance budget is one of the last things you should do.”

Congressional Democrats for years have said that any increase in defense spending must be accompanied by hikes in domestic priorities — and with President Obama in office, they were able to prevail.

Now, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, warned of massive cuts to health research, while other Democrats said the administration would have to slash regulators like the agencies that monitor Wall Street.

On the other side of the aisle, Mr. Trump’s defense plans split conservatives.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the $54 billion boost would bring defense spending next year to $603 billion. He said that was just 3 percent more than President Obama had envisioned.

Mr. McCain said the department needs $37 billion more than even Mr. Trump is calling for.

“With a world on fire, America cannot secure peace through strength with just 3 percent more than President Obama’s budget. We can and must do better,” Mr. McCain said.

Budget analysts, though, said the problem isn’t too little money, but bad spending decisions.

“The defense budget is blotted with massive amounts of waste and spending that respond to the military needs of a world that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

“Any additional increase in defense spending without addressing these issues raises a serious risk that the new injection of funds will once again be allocated based on politics or outdated priorities rather than national security concerns,” she said.

The president met at the White House on Monday afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, to discuss his agenda and the speech.

“We’re looking forward to a positive, upbeat presentation,” Mr. McConnell said.

Asked by reporters whether he was comfortable with the president’s budget failing to address entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, Mr. Ryan replied, “Repealing and replacing Obamacare is fundamental entitlement reform.”

White House officials didn’t specify cuts in discretional spending programs, but they did single out foreign aid, saying it would see “large reductions” in spending.

The full budget negotiations between Mr. Trump and Congress will not be complete soon. The administration is expected to submit a more detailed spending plan to lawmakers in May.

Mr. Trump also said his spending plan will contain more spending for infrastructure. He lamented that the U.S. has spent trillions of dollars on military operations in the Middle East over the past two decades without winning wars.

“We’re nowhere,” the president said in a meeting with the nation’s governors. “We don’t fight to win. We spend $6 trillion in the Middle East, and we have potholes all over our roads.”

The outlines of his beefed-up military spending received an early endorsement Monday from former President George W. Bush.

“I think it’s very hard to fight the war on terrorism if we’re in retreat,” Mr. Bush said on NBC’s “Today” program. “I think we learned that lesson that if the United States decides to pull out before a free society emerges, it’s going to be hard to defeat them.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who chairs the National Governors Association, said Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were promoting their plans for increased defense spending in conversations with him, knowing that Virginia has 27 U.S. military installations.

“I’m all for defense spending,” Mr. McAuliffe said on MSNBC. “A good question is, ‘How will we possibly pay for it?’ I didn’t get any details on the other side.”

The administration’s budget envisions economic growth in fiscal 2018 of 2.4 percent. Gross domestic product grew at a tepid 1.6 percent in 2016; it was 2.6 percent in 2015.

Mr. Mulvaney said the administration’s spending plan would not add to the deficit, which the Congressional Budget Office is projecting at $487 billion for fiscal 2018.

Mr. Trump’s budget envisions defense spending rising to $603 billion. Non-defense programs, including foreign aid, would fall by $54 billion to $462 billion.

Mr. Trump said he wants to provide soldiers with the tools to deter war and, when called upon, “to start winning wars again.”

“When I was young, in high school and in college, everybody used to say we never lost a war. America never lost,” Mr. Trump said. “Now, we never win a war.”

He cited the example of the Middle East, where the U.S. has conducted wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan since 2001. Since 2003, 4,516 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq, and another 2,392 in Afghanistan, according to the website icasualties.org.

Mr. Trump said the U.S. has nothing to show for the money spent in the Middle East, with Islamist groups still posing a constant threat.

“We’re nowhere. We’re less than nowhere,” Mr. Trump said. “The Middle East is far worse than it was 16, 17 years ago. It’s not even a contest. So we’ve spent $6 trillion, we have a hornet’s nest, it’s a mess. We’re nowhere.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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