Trump team prepares dramatic cuts
Donald Trump is ready to take an ax to government spending.
Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned.
The changes they propose are dramatic.
The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.
Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.
The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition.
Similar proposals have in the past won support from Republicans in the House and Senate, who believe they have an opportunity to truly tackle spending after years of warnings about the rising debt.
Many of the specific cuts were included in the 2017 budget adopted by the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus that represents a majority of House Republicans. The RSC budget plan would reduce federal spending by $8.6 trillion over the next decade.
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.
Vought and Gray, who both worked for the Heritage Foundation, are laying the groundwork for the so-called skinny budget — a 175- to 200-page document that will spell out the main priorities of the incoming Trump administration, along with summary tables. That document is expected to come out within 45 days of Trump taking office.
The administration’s full budget, including appropriations language, supplementary materials and long-term analysis, is expected to be released toward the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, or by mid- to late April.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Trump’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, has not yet weighed in on the proposed spending reforms because he is still awaiting confirmation by the Senate.
Mulvaney voted for the RSC budget offered as a more conservative alternative to the main House Republican budget in 2015. The House did not vote on the RSC budget for fiscal year 2017.
The preliminary proposals from the White House budget office will be shared with federal departments and agencies soon after Trump takes the oath of office Friday, and could provoke an angry backlash.
Trump’s Cabinet picks have yet to be apprised of the reforms, which would reduce resources within their agencies.
The budget offices of the various departments will have the chance to review the proposals, offer feedback and appeal for changes before the president’s budget goes to Congress.
It’s not clear whether Trump’s first budget will include reforms to Social Security or Medicare, two major drivers of the federal deficit.
Trump vowed during the campaign not to cut Medicare and Social Security, a pledge that Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), his pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers in testimony Wednesday has not changed.
Yet it could be very difficult to reduce U.S. debt without tackling the entitlement programs. Conservative House budgets have repeatedly included reforms to Medicare and Social Security, arguing they are necessary to save the programs.
The presidential budget is important in setting policy and laying out the administration’s agenda, though Congress would be responsible for approving a federal budget and appropriating funds.
Moving Trump’s budget through Congress could be difficult. In 2015, with the GOP in control of the House, the RSC budget failed by a vote of 132 to 294.
Moderate Republicans and Democrats on the Appropriations Committee are likely to push back at some of the cuts being considered by Trump.
But they seem likely to have the support of Mulvaney, a conservative budget hawk who backed the RSC budget.
“Mick Mulvaney and his colleagues at the Republican Study Committee when they crafted budgets over the years, they were serious,” said a former congressional aide. “Mulvaney didn’t take this OMB position to just mind the store.”
“He wants to make significant, fundamental changes to the structure of the president’s budget, and I expect him to do that with Vought and Gray putting the meat on the bones,” the source added.
The Heritage blueprint used as a basis for Trump’s proposed cuts calls for eliminating several programs that conservatives label corporate welfare programs: the Minority Business Development Agency, the Economic Development Administration, the International Trade Administration and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The total savings from cutting these four programs would amount to nearly $900 million in 2017.
At the Department of Justice, the blueprint calls for eliminating the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Violence Against Women Grants and the Legal Services Corporation and for reducing funding for its Civil Rights and its Environment and Natural Resources divisions.
At the Department of Energy, it would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Under the State Department’s jurisdiction, funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are candidates for elimination.
Conservatives allied with fiscal hawks such as Pence, Paul and the Heritage Foundation say the time is long past due to get serious about cutting the federal deficit.
“The Trump Administration needs to reform and cut spending dramatically, and targeting waste like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be a good first step in showing that the Trump Administration is serious about radically reforming the federal budget,” said Brian Darling, a former aide to Paul and a former staffer at the Heritage Foundation.