Politics

Trump’s budget slashes funds for EPA and State Department

President Donald Trump on Air Force One.

Mark Zaleski/AP

President Donald Trump on Air Force One.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint for the coming fiscal year would slash the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent and cut State Department spending by a similar amount in a brash gesture of disdain for big government, according to congressional staff members familiar with the plan.

The budget outline, to be unveiled Thursday, is more of a broad political statement than a detailed plan for spending and taxation. But it represents Trump’s first real effort to translate his broad but vague campaign themes into the black and white of spending priorities. The president would funnel $54 billion in additional funding into defense programs, beef up immigration enforcement and significantly reduce the nondefense federal workforce to “dismantle the administrative state,” in the words of Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon.

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Yet for all its headline-grabbing bold strokes — and the White House claims that it will reset the process of Washington policymaking — major elements of the plan have already been declared dead on arrival by the Republican leadership in Congress, and much of the fiscal fine print will be filled in by Capitol Hill lawmakers and their aides over the next month.

House appropriations subcommittees began reviewing the plan late Wednesday. Among the cuts: drastic reductions in the 60-year-old State Department Food for Peace Program, which sends food to poor countries hit by war or natural disasters, and the elimination of the Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes flights to rural airports.

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The plan to be released at 7 a.m. tomorrow is a “skinny budget,” a pared-down first draft of the line-by-line appropriations request submitted by first-term administrations during their first few months. A broader budget will be released later in the spring that will include Trump’s proposals for taxation as well as the bulk of government spending — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs.

Trump’s version is likely to be even skinnier than usual, a result of the chaos, inexperience and staffing problems encountered by the Trump White House over the first two months.

Issues with coordination plagued Wednesday’s briefing sessions: Republican communications staff members, who usually coordinate their messaging, complained that they had been given no White House guidance on its details or how to sell the plan, which covers the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

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In addition to the cuts at the EPA and the State Department, Trump’s team is expected to propose a wide array of cuts to public education, to transportation programs like Amtrak and to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including the complete elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds popular programs like Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts.

In recent years, far smaller proposed cuts to the popular grant program, which includes flexible funding for a variety of housing and community projects, created a bipartisan uproar that nearly scuttled the entire budget-making process.

The EPA is, arguably, the hardest-hit agency under Trump’s budget proposal: He wants to cut spending by nearly a third — $2.6 billion from its current level of $8.2 billion, according to a person who had been briefed on the proposal but was not authorized to speak publicly about it.

That would take the budget down to about $5.7 billion, its lowest level in 40 years, adjusted for inflation. In an initial draft, the White House had proposed cutting about $2 billion from the agency’s budget, taking it down to just over $6 billion, according to an aide familiar with the plan.

The EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, who has himself spoken out against some of the core missions of the agency he leads, went to the White House to request a smaller cut after the White House budget office first presented him its preferred spending level. He pressed for about $7 billion, according to the person. Instead, the White House slashed his budget down even further, to about $5.7 billion.

Trump’s proposed cuts to the EPA are a magnitude greater even than those envisioned by congressional Republicans, many of whom forcefully oppose the agency’s regulatory agenda. Last year, the House spending subcommittee that controls the EPA’s budget proposed funding the agency at $8 billion, cutting just $291 million from President Barack Obama’s request.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., chairman of that panel, said in an interview this year that he did not anticipate cutting the EPA’s popular state grant programs, which fund projects like restoring the Great Lakes and cleaning and redeveloping formerly contaminated industrial sites.

The proposed State Department cuts, which leaked this month, have already created a backlash among some Capitol Hill Republicans.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has already said Senate Republicans will not agree to deep cuts to the $50 billion budget for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development initially proposed by the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget.

Trump’s original plan was to slash the State Department by as much as 37 percent — but budget director Mick Mulvaney has reduced the cuts to 28 percent to 31 percent, at the urging of legislators and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

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