House sets aside Trump’s biggest budget cuts
The House this week quietly pushed aside some of the most controversial proposals in President Trump’s budget request.
Trump’s proposal, released in May, was a jaw-dropping document, containing cuts to programs and agencies unlike anything seen in decades. The administration touted the document as “A New Foundation for American Greatness.”
The blueprint called for slashing budgets at major government agencies, plus cutting funds from the National Weather Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other things.
But many of those proposed cuts were reduced or absent altogether on Thursday as the House passed a $1.2 trillion government-funding package.
The package contains significant cuts to government programs, though not nearly as deep as what the Trump administration had recommended.
“I would say that the bill reflects conservatives’ priorities pretty well, as indicated by the fact that only a small number of Republicans  voted against it,” said Molly Reynolds, a governance studies expert at the Brookings Institution.
The funding bills are not expected to become law, but represent a likely starting point for fiscal negotiations between the two parties this fall.
“I see the House omnibus as just the first step in an overall process of coming to an agreement,” Reynolds said.
Trump’s budget, released well before hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated portions of Texas, Louisiana and Florida, would have cut FEMA’s funding by $876 million. Instead, the House voted to increase FEMA’s funding by $39 million. Trump also requested cutting the National Weather Service budget by $62 million, or roughly 6 percent. The House cut $25 million.
The Community Development Block Grant, which many members of Congress noted helps fund Meals on Wheels, were targeted for elimination in the administration’s blueprint. The House cut $100 million, but left $2.9 billion of the funding intact.
Trump’s budget proposal called for eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funded the channel that created “Sesame Street” long before it was sold to HBO. Congress left its funding untouched, and only slashed 3 percent from the National Endowment for the Arts, which Trump had also slated for elimination.
On healthcare research, the House approved a whopping $1.1 billion increase for the National Institute of Health. Trump proposed cutting the agency’s funding by $7.5 billion.
Still, despite the House’s moves, the Trump administration appears to be making some headway in its pursuit of spending cuts.
By throwing out an enormous initial proposal for non-defense cuts, Trump may have made it easier for Congress to adopt cuts that are nonetheless significant. Psychologists call the strategy “anchoring,” because it anchors the first number— in this case $54 billion in discretionary non-defense cuts — at the center of a negotiation.
“It’s a hugely powerful tool, as behavioral economists and psychologists have proven,” says Gabriella Blum, a negotiations expert at Harvard Law School. “Once you throw a number out there, it serves as a very powerful anchor that your mind is drawn to. It forces the conversation around it.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for example, had sought a roughly 30 percent cut to his agency. He told Congress, “I have never believed, or experienced, that the level of funding devoted to a goal is the most important factor in achieving it.”
The House balked at a 30 percent cut and kept in place many of the programs and staff that Trump advocated cutting. Yet the bill would slash the State Department’s funding by 15 percent, a $2.6 billion decrease compared to 2017.
Overall, while the House package didn’t reach the Trump’s goal of $54 billion in cuts, it does cut $5 billion, a significant figure that touches many parts of the government.
The EPA’s funding would be slashed to levels it hasn’t seen in more than a decade, and the IRS would see a $149 million cut. Meanwhile, $1.6 billion would be appropriated to start building Trump’s famous border wall.
But there’s a long way to go before any cuts become law.
The 12-bill package approved on Thursday will not become law; the Senate is still working through its own appropriations using a completely different set of numbers, and will require Democratic support to overcome a filibuster.