By Andrew BEATTY President Donald Trump will propose drastic cuts to America's foreign aid and environmental programs in a security-heavy first budget blueprint to be released Thursday.
In a plan designed to translate bold campaign promises into dollar-and-cent commitments, the Republican leader will propose a 28 percent cut in State Department funding.
That could be a harbinger of steep reductions in foreign aid and funding to UN agencies, with knock-on effects around the world.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in Tokyo, said he would “willingly” accept Trump’s challenge to tighten the budget.
“Clearly the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking is unsustainable,” Tillerson said at a press conference.
“We are going to be able to do a lot with fewer dollars,” he said.
Tillerson acknowledged that this would not be easy, but said that the State Department “is coming off a historically high allocation of resources.”
The Pentagon will be the major winner in the budget, with a nearly 10 percent boost — shoveling more cash toward a defense budget already greater than that of the next seven nations combined.
Separately, around $4 billion will be earmarked this year and next to start building a wall along America’s border with Mexico.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that Mexico will pay for that wall — which will cost at least $15 billion, according to estimates by Bernstein Research, a consulting firm.
Trump’s broad-brush proposal covers only a small fraction of the $3.8 trillion federal budget — which is dominated by healthcare, pension and other baked-in costs.
The text will be heavily revised and fleshed out by Congress, before a full budget is released around May.
In that sense, the plan is as much a political statement as a fiscal outline: a fact not lost on the White House.
– Playing to the base -“This is a hard-power budget, it is not a soft-power budget” said White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney.
Mulvaney, a former congressman, said he trawled through Trump’s campaign speeches for inspiration.
The budget is a signal to Trump’s supporters that he is a “man of action” and not a “typical politician.”
Trump is looking to rally his base amid multiple controversies including his Twitter outbursts, Russian meddling in the election that brought him to power and a simmering rift with Congressional Republicans over healthcare reform.
According to Gallup, Trump has approval ratings of 40 percent, a low for any modern president weeks into his tenure.
But security has been a major vote winner. An Economist/YouGov poll found that 51 percent of Republicans believe the United States will be safer from terrorism at the end of his term.
The budget may also be seen as a signal to the world that Trump’s United States will be less engaged and put “America first.”
Diplomats and some former defense officials have already warned that less spending on areas like democracy promotion and humanitarian aid will spell more trouble, and military spending, down the road.
More than 120 retired generals and admirals recently signed a letter warning “that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone.”
They cited Jim Mattis, now defense secretary, as once saying that “if you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
– ‘Drastic cuts’ -The Environmental Protection Agency, which helps monitor air, water and other standards, would also see significant cuts.
That is in keeping with Trump’s promise to gut regulation.
“We believe that the core functions (of the EPA) can be satisfied with this budget,” Mulvaney said.
On Wednesday, Trump traveled to Detroit, the home of the American auto industry, and announced that he would freeze targets to limit future vehicle emissions.
Trump’s top advisor Steve Bannon has promised a broader “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
But Trump’s plan is already coming under fire from Democratic lawmakers.
“It will prescribe drastic cuts in many of the programs and agencies that keep America safe, whether it’s environmental programs, whether it is food safety, drug safety,” said Kentucky representative John Yarmuth.
The ranking member on the House budget committee said the proposal could be a negotiating position, an opening salvo in Trump’s “art of the deal.”
“If they want to negotiate with the health and safety and future of the American people, then that’s pretty cynical,” he said. DM
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