President Donald Trump’s plan to
eliminate dozens of federal agencies and programs has collapsed, as a
conservative Republican Congress refuses to go along.
Among the programs spared are
agencies promoting rural business development and the arts, the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Community Development Block Grants
and the National Wildlife Refuge Fund. Those and many others are getting
money in bills approved by the GOP-run House appropriations committee.
The House plans to vote on spending bills throughout next week, and the
Senate is expected to consider spending plans shortly.
Trump unveiled his $4.1 trillion budget plan in March, pledging to “reduce the federal government to redefine its proper role and promote efficiency.”
But in the House, where all 435
members face voters next fall, budget legislation has far more money
than Trump had sought for a host of programs. The spending bill for
agriculture contains $4.64 billion beyond what Trump requested, an
increase of about 30 percent. For interior and the environment, the bump
was $4.3 billion or 16 percent. For transportation, housing and urban
development, the committee approved $8.6 billion, about 18 percent, more
than the budget request.
"There’s that old saying in
Washington that the president proposes and Congress disposes," said
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan
Indeed, after many House and Senate Republicans complained to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in hearings about the impact of some of Trump’s cuts, congressional budget-writers quickly made sure they don’t happen.
For example, instead of slashing the Appalachian Regional Commission,
the House Appropriations Committee last week approved $130 million for
the independent agency, created 52 years ago, that helps fund
infrastructure and job-training projects in Ohio, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and other Appalachian
states that Trump won in 2016.
Lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., vowed that doing away with the ARC wasn’t going to happen.
"I am very proud that the House
Appropriations Committee approved a bill that includes important funding
for the ARC, an organization that does a great deal of good in East
Tennessee and rural Appalachia," Roe said.
Even agencies and programs
conservative Republicans purport to dislike are avoiding the Capitol ax.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been on the list of
programs many conservatives and Republicans have wanted to defund since
Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was House Speaker in the 1990's.
Trump wants it off the federal books, too, but House appropriators instead included $445 million for the agency.
The National Endowment for the Arts
and the National Endowment for the Humanities have also been favorite
conservative targets, and got a death sentence in Trump’s budget plan.
That didn’t stop the House Appropriations Committee from approving $145
million for each endowment last week with plenty of Republican help.
"Throughout this year, we’ve seen
some of the Republican members of that committee saying that they were
working hard to make sure that the NEA would be receiving significant
funding and certainly rejecting the administration’s termination
proposal," said Narric Rome, vice president for government affairs for
the Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group.
All this still enrages plenty of conservatives.
"The problem with the Republicans is
that so many of them aren’t team players," said Chris Edwards, director
of tax policies studies at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute and
editor of DownsizingGovernment.org. "They’re parochial or, with
appropriators, it’s just a single-minded devotion to increase spending
on the programs that they fund."
Edwards said he was stunned when
leading Republicans railed against Trump’s budget plan to eliminate the
Community Block Grant Development program, which allocates funds
initiatives from affordable housing to after school programs.
House appropriators approved $2.9 billion for CDBG, $100 million less than its Fiscal 2017 funding level.
"Appropriators and other Republican
congressmen, they love to give speeches about fiscal responsibility,
they love to complain how Obama was a big spender, but now’s the real
test," he said.
"Trump has given them the way forward here with some
reasonable cuts. Can they rise above their parochial interests and do
something that’s good for the overall budget here?."
Other budget-watchers note that the
real money issues aren’t even being addressed. Marc Goldwein, senior
vice president and senior policy director for the nonpartisan Committee
for a Responsible Federal Budget, said that even Trump’s cuts ignore the
fastest growing parts of the federal budget, entitlements like Social
Security and Medicare.
"To me, it just doesn’t seem to make
much sense to be focusing all our energy on cutting the slowest growing
part of the budget," he said.
It seems like a lifetime ago that Republican National Committee chief Reince Priebus brokered a meeting between the unexpected presidential nominee Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan to try iron out their differences. But it was just a little less than a year ago in a world that seems more and more distant by the minute. They spoke of many things, with Ryan desperately trying to convince Trump that he needed to adopt the GOP agenda and Trump telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about.
Bloomberg reported one particular exchange in the meeting that stuck in my mind:
According to a source in the room, Trump criticized Ryan’s proposed entitlement cuts as unfair and politically foolish. “From a moral standpoint, I believe in it,” Trump told Ryan. “But you also have to get elected. And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.’”Trump may not have realized it, but Republicans have never won the presidency by explicitly saying they were going to make cuts to Social Security. They have always used euphemisms, saying they were going to “privatize it” or promising to “save it” from itself. The reason Democrats continually win the day (if not the office they are vying for) is because people don’t trust Republican double-talk on the subject and for good reason. They have been trying to destroy Social Security since it was enacted.
Historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote in “The Coming of the New Deal” that President Franklin Roosevelt knew that creating a dedicated funding stream gave workers the “legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions.” He said, “With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” Schlesinger also noted that Republicans and business leaders at the time were appalled, with one warning that the program would “undermine our national life by destroying initiative, discouraging thrift, and stifling individual responsibility.”
Donald Trump’s comment in that meeting last year that he agreed with Ryan on a “moral basis” indicated that he was on the same page as those earlier plutocrats even if he sings a different tune in public. [...]