- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

President Trump’s first budget called Thursday for a dramatic shift from the “soft power” diplomacy of the Obama era to a “hard power” military buildup, cutting the State Department by 28 percent in a slashing of foreign aid, boosting Pentagon spending by 10 percent and budgeting more than $4 billion to start construction of a border wall with Mexico.

The spending blueprint that Mr. Trump submitted to Congress would provide more money for agencies responsible for national security and border enforcement, as well as veterans’ benefits and school choice programs.

Nearly everything else in the federal government, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the IRS, is targeted for cuts.

Federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, long a target of conservative ire, would be eliminated. The CPB received $445 million in taxpayer dollars in fiscal 2016.

Some of President Obama’s cherished programs, such as federal support for alternative energy and climate change initiatives, are on the chopping block. The EPA is slated for a cut of 31 percent.

Agencies slated for cuts include the Department of Health and Human Services, down 18 percent; Agriculture, down 21 percent; Labor, dropping 21 percent; Commerce, down 16 percent; and Education, down 14 percent. The Department of Veterans Affairs would see a 6-percent increase and the Homeland Security Department’s budget would rise 7 percent.

SEE ALSO: Trump’s budget would eliminate dozens of programs, including National Endowment for the Arts

Mr. Trump called the cuts “sensible and rational.”

“Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people,” he said.

Advocates of limited government called the budget a good start, while progressives attacked the spending plan as mean-spirited.

“The Trump administration’s budget blueprint begins the much-needed work of making major cuts in agencies like the EPA, and ending the waste of taxpayer dollars that are being poured into things like federally-funded TV and radio,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “We hope Congress will follow suit, and that this is just the start of an ongoing effort to truly cut the size and scope of the federal government.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, said the spending plan “will decimate and eliminate some of our nation’s most critical programs that serve hardworking American families.”

“President Trump continues to work for millionaires and billionaires, not everyday Americans, and his cuts for programs that serve America’s middle and working class are an assault to our values,” she said.

The president’s top advisers said it’s exactly the kind of budget Mr. Trump promised voters during the campaign.

“This is a ‘hard power’ budget,” said Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. “This is not a ‘soft power’ budget. The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this a strong-power administration.”

Mr. Trump, who is working with his military chiefs on a plan to destroy the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, proposes to raise Defense Department spending by $54 billion, to $603 billion. Nondefense discretionary spending would fall by the same amount, to keep the projected budget deficit at $488 billion for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.

The president’s spending proposals cover only the $1.1 trillion portion of the federal budget devoted to discretionary spending. Mr. Trump isn’t proposing changes to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, which are included in the part of the budget totaling roughly $3 trillion in annual automatic expenses.

Nor does the budget framework address the tax cuts that Mr. Trump wants to implement later this year for businesses and individuals.

On the day after a federal judge in Hawaii blocked Mr. Trump’s latest “extreme vetting” order on immigration from taking effect, the president also is proposing the first government expenditure for his signature campaign issue of building a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico. The administration is proposing to spend $1.5 billion on the wall before Oct. 1 as part of a $30 billion request to complete the fiscal year, with another $2.6 billion for the wall in fiscal 2018.

Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that Mexico will pay for the wall, a question that is far from resolved. Mr. Mulvaney has said the estimates for a border wall run anywhere from $8 million to $25 million a mile along the 1,950-mile border, and that some of it could be fencing instead of a concrete wall. Portions of the border already have barriers.

“We haven’t settled on construction types, we haven’t settled on where we’re going to start,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “The funding provides for a couple of different ‘pilot’ cases, different kinds of barriers in different kinds of places as we try to find the most cost-efficient, safest and also the most effective form of protection in different areas.”

Perhaps the most startling budget proposal is the cut of more than one-fourth of the State Department’s funding, which Mr. Mulvaney called “a fairly dramatic reduction.”

White House officials portrayed the cuts as a statement against U.S. foreign aid, not against the diplomatic operations of the State Department. The OMB director said Mr. Trump “believes very strongly” in the mission of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

“We believe we have protected the core diplomatic function at State,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “The foreign aid line items in the budget, many of them, just happen to fall within the State Department function. The president ran saying he would spend less money overseas and more money back home.”

The U.S. is expected to spend more than $40 billion on foreign aid in the current fiscal year, with about 60 percent of that total for economic and development assistance and 40 percent on security. The top recipients are Afghanistan, where 8,400 U.S. troops are deployed, about $4.7 billion; Israel, $3.1 billion; Egypt, $1.4 billion; Iraq, $1.1 billion; Jordan, $1 billion; and Pakistan, $742 million. Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia each received more than $500 million.

Getting wholesale cuts in foreign aid through Congress will be a tough sell, with nearly all Democrats and some key Republican lawmakers opposed. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations, said last month that the proposal would be “dead on arrival.”

“It’s not going to happen. It would be a disaster,” Mr. Graham said. “This budget destroys soft power. It puts our diplomats at risk, and it’s going nowhere.”

As reports surfaced of Mr. Trump’s plan to slash HUD’s community development block grant program, progressives and others lined up to oppose the action in Congress.

Emily Holubowich, co-chair of NDD United, a coalition of more than 2,000 groups supporting federal spending on domestic programs, said Mr. Trump’s budget is “taking direct aim at the voters who pulled the lever for [him] because their economic situation worried them.” She accused the president of “pulling the rug out from underneath them.”

Mr. Mulvaney said HUD has a lot of “wasteful programs.”

“We’ve spent a lot of money on housing and urban development over the last decade without a lot to show for it,” he said.

Mr. Mulvaney said staffing reductions at the EPA will be at the discretion of Administrator Scott Pruitt and that the agency’s “core functions can be satisfied with this budget.”

“You could expect reductions in the EPA that don’t line up with the president’s view on things like global warming and alternative energy,” he said. “You will see a reduction in subsidies, a reduction of participation in those types of programs.”

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning said Mr. Trump’s first budget “is taking the first important step to draining the swamp” in Washington.

“There is little excuse for congressional Republicans not to build upon this restructuring of the government by insisting that all unnecessary spending be cut even further,” he said.

FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon called the budget proposal “a serious attempt to trim the fat in many different bloated areas of the federal government.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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