- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2017

A common theme in President Trump’s first attempt to streamline the federal budget Thursday was a message to lawmakers to stop their habit of throwing taxpayers’ money at programs they haven’t bothered to authorize.

In the Transportation Department budget, for example, Mr. Trump proposed to eliminate funding for the unauthorized “TIGER” discretionary grant program. The administration said the program results in grants for “projects that are generally eligible for funding under existing surface transportation formula programs.”

The anticipated savings: $499 million.

In the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Trump wants to cut $667 million from state and local grants for programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that are either “unauthorized by the Congress,” such as FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, or duplicate government services.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and a former House lawmaker, said the president is sending a deliberate message to Congress about spending money on unauthorized programs.

“The message is: That’s not the right way to do it,” Mr. Mulvaney told The Washington Times. “You’ve heard the president talk specifically on the campaign trail about at least a 5 percent reduction for unauthorized programs, and that’s what generated this budget.”

The president’s first proposed budget calls for about $1.15 trillion in discretionary spending, with big increases for the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs and significant cuts in most other agencies.

With the president putting an emphasis on boosting defense spending without adding to the fiscal 2018 projected deficit of $488 billion, administration officials are looking closely at savings from redundant programs.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported in January on federal spending on unauthorized programs, a list that has grown to 151 pages. In the current fiscal year, taxpayers are funding line items in the budget for unauthorized programs ranging from space operations ($4.2 billion) to grants to “collect, analyze, and report data about programs to the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis” ($7.5 million).

All that spending adds up. Congress approved more than $300 billion in fiscal 2016 for programs that lawmakers had not reauthorized — more than 25 percent of discretionary spending. The trend in Washington has been growing for decades.

Budget hawks have tried to rein in these expenditures before.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican, has described the programs as “zombies” that are “well past their expiration date, yet Congress still lets them feast — on government cash.”

Mr. Mulvaney said lawmakers too often ignore the “regular order” process of approving a budget, authorizing specific programs and then appropriating the money for the programs. Some agencies, such as the Federal Election Commission, haven’t been reauthorized in decades. Lawmakers are not eager to wade into a lengthy partisan battle about the scope of its authority.

“We actually spend a lot of money in the federal government on programs that aren’t authorized at all,” he said. “Either they used to be authorized and they lapsed, or they were never authorized in the first place. They simply were appropriated without any authorization. It’s the wrong way to do it.”

Among other proposed cuts in Mr. Trump’s budget are some targets with strong supporters in Congress, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($445 million) and the National Endowment for the Arts ($148 million).

Mr. Mulvaney acknowledged that some of the proposed cuts are unpopular but said Mr. Trump is in a “unique position” because he is not beholden to lobbyists or special interests.

Asked how he can defend proposed cuts to the arts or for block grant programs that fund services such as Meals on Wheels for homebound senior citizens, Mr. Mulvaney said the administration’s message is simple.

“I put myself in the shoes of that steelworker in Ohio, the coal mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit,” he said. “I have to go ask these folks for money, and I have to tell them where I’m going to spend it. Can I really go to those folks and look them in the eye and say, ‘I want to take money from you, and I want to give it to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’? That is a really hard sell [that] I don’t think we can defend anymore.”

With the administration preparing to submit a more detailed budget in May, it’s unclear what the spending plan’s fate will be in Congress. Most Democrats reacted negatively to the budget outline, and some key Republicans are opposed to Mr. Trump’s drastic cuts in foreign aid.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the administration is aiming for “the deconstruction of the federal government.”

“They are deconstructionist,” she said. “They make no bones about that. This is all about a philosophical destruct of the role of the federal government in any way in meeting the needs of the American people. Should there be a debate? Should we subject all spending to the harshest scrutiny? We certainly should. But that’s not what this is about. This is systemic deconstruction of the federal government.”

Mr. Trump’s budget also encountered opposition Thursday from education advocates over the proposed elimination of an after-school program, despite the long track record of the more than $1 billion spent annually on the initiatives not affecting youth outcomes.

The budget would eliminate funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program that supports before- and after-school programs in the blueprint that would boost military spending and slash funds for domestic agencies, including a 13 percent reduction for the Department of Education.

The administration targeted the learning centers, which received $1.2 billion for the 2017 budget year, because the “program lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement,” according to budget documents.

The cut immediately became a flashpoint.

The advocacy group Afterschool Alliance called the cuts “a betrayal of the millions of students and parents who depend on after-school and summer learning programs.”

“This proposal would devastate working families. It is painfully shortsighted and makes a mockery of the president’s promise to make our country safer and to support inner cities and rural communities alike,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the nonprofit organization.

Budget hawks have targeted the program for decades.

A series of studies conducted by the Department of Education beginning in 2003 found that students in the program were no more likely to have improved academic outcomes. However, the study did find that students in the program were “more likely to engage in some negative behaviors,” according to the 2005 study.

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.”

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

But Rep. Rosa L. 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.

Mr. Trump’s budget also spells out his intention to end President Obama’s climate change policies, including eliminating funding for the Clean Power Plan.

The budget proposal would save $100 million in fiscal 2018 by discontinuing funding for climate change research, international climate change programs and the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which restricts carbon emissions from power plants.

Mr. Trump is expected to sign an executive order soon that would direct the EPA to roll back provisions of the Clean Power Plan, issued in 2015 as one of the cornerstones of Mr. Obama’s climate change strategy.

“Consistent with the president’s America First Energy Plan, the budget reorients EPA’s air program to protect the air we breathe without unduly burdening the American economy,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said in the 62-page spending plan.

S.A. Miller and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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

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