Energy & Environment

Dems blast Trump plans for deep spending cuts


Several Democratic senators harshly criticized spending cuts planned by the Trump administration during a confirmation hearing Thursday for Rick Perry, who is nominated to lead the Energy Department.

“This is absolutely nuts in terms of the future of energy in this country,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told Perry. 

“You’re going to have to really do some hard pushing back on this because, assuming this is true, I find it’s almost self-parody to be cutting energy research at this moment in time.”

{mosads}A report published Thursday by The Hill said that transition officials for President-elect Donald Trump are talking about major cuts to the Energy Department that would reduce nuclear physics and scientific computing research funding to 2008 levels, as well as eliminating three agency initiatives: the Office of Electricity, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy. 

The proposals under consideration hew closely to a blueprint published by the Heritage Foundation.

The cuts are among trillions of dollars in spending targeted by those close to the president-elect.

Democrats implored Perry to push Trump away from those cuts. 

“It’s hard to see how we can pursue an all-of-the-above strategy if so much of the departments all of the above capabilities are eliminated,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said. “We’re counting on you to educate the incoming president.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow said she was “concerned” by the proposed cuts, saying it would gut federal energy research and hurt the U.S. economy. 

“We’re talking about massive cuts in the kinds of things that you have advocated for — you supported in your role as governor — that are critical to the future of the economy, and lowering emissions, and creating more efficiencies,” she said.

“We’re going to do all of that, it needs to really be the kinds of things that you’ve been talking about this morning. And yet, we just have a new statement that we’re talking about massive cuts in the Energy Department.”

Perry tried to dampen Democrat’s concerns, first saying of the report that, “just because it’s on the internet, it’s not true.” 

Later he noted his time as Texas governor and said, “I have a rather interesting background of defending budgets. … My point is I know what the Department of Energy should be good at.”

He also tried to defuse talk about budget cuts by alluding to the 2011 incident in which, during a Republican presidential primary debate, he forgot that the Department of Energy (DOE) was one of the agencies he would eliminate if elected.

“Maybe they’ll have the same experience I had and forget that they said that,” he said.

The Energy cuts are just a few of the major reductions in spending Trump’s team envisions, and Democrats’ reaction to them Thursday preview a major fight over federal spending if the Trump White House follows through. 

Overall, the Heritage blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

Two members of Trump’s transition team are discussing the cuts at the White House budget office: Russ Vought, a former aide to Vice President-elect Mike Pence and the former executive director of the RSC, and John Gray, who previously worked for Pence, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) when Ryan headed the House Budget Committee.

Both previously worked at the Heritage Foundation.

Under the plan, the National Endowment for Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized.   

Department of Justice programs like the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the Violence Against Women Grants and the Legal Services Corporation would end, and State Department funding for international climate change programs would be zeroed out. 

Budget hawks in the House have pushed similar cuts in the past as part of the Republican Study Committee budget, though that has never had the support to win approval in the House. 

At this point, the discussions in the budget office have not been put into a formal document, but they are meant to form the basis of a “skinny budget” that Trump officials see as laying out the administration’s priorities. There is a goal of producing this document within 45 days of Trump taking office.

If Thursday’s hearing is any indication, Democrats will resist serious budget slashing like that being floated. 

But the proposal could run into skepticism among Republicans as well, many of whom have something to like in at least some of the potential targets. 

Just within the Energy Department, ending the $2 billion Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy could have major implications for renewable energy systems deployed in rural areas of the country. The office claims that the $12 billion it has spent on research has created a net economic benefit $230 billion over the lifetime of the program. 

More pressingly, members from fossil fuel-heavy states are likely to object to cutting the Office of Fossil Energy, which researchers how to use coal, oil and natural gas in a cleaner way, potentially saving mining and extraction industries increasingly threatened by the growing renewable energy industry. 

“I have complete confidence that you are going to restore this balance I think the American people seek between fossil fuels and renewable energy investments and regulation,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) told Perry at Thursday’s hearing. “I think that has been lacking in President Obama’s Energy Department and I think you will restore that balance.”

Democrats, though, indicated they will lead a charge against the cuts, even as they were coming to terms with them on Thursday. 

“I hope these reports on cuts in DOE aren’t true,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said. “Things in the new administration seem to be fluid, shall I say.”

Tags Al Franken Angus King Debbie Stabenow Donald Trump Energy Department Mazie Hirono Mike Pence Paul Ryan Rand Paul

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