Trump budget would reduce regulations
—EPA would see 31 percent reduction; defense gets boost
If President Donald Trump gets his druthers, the U.S. government will be a lean, mean defending machine. A budget plan recently released by Trump and his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, takes aim at government waste and regulation, while proposing a $54 billion increase for defense, veterans, and homeland security for 2018.
Titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” and released March 16, the plan addresses only discretionary spending, which currently makes up less than a third of the total federal budget, or about $1.1 trillion annually.
It proposes major cuts to agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—which would take the largest proportional cut at 31 percent (a $2.6 billion cut). The State Department would take a 29 percent hit, with a much larger dollar figure— shrinking by $10.9 billion. Thirteen other agencies would also shrink, such as Agriculture (down 21 percent) and Interior (down 12 percent).
The plan includes a lengthy paragraph of programs that would lose funding altogether, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the National Endowment for the Arts; and the African Development Foundation.
“Consistent with the president’s approach to move the nation toward fiscal responsibility,” reads Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Mulvaney’s introduction in the plan, “the Budget eliminates and reduces hundreds of programs and focuses funding to redefine the proper role of the Federal Government.”
Trump’s proposed 10.5 percent cuts in domestic spending are comparable to the 7.5 percent cuts proposed by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1995. Before that, the first Congress under President Ronald Reagan (1981) took an even bigger bite out of spending, adding up to almost 18 percent of domestic discretionary spending.
While the president’s annual budget request is part of the appropriations process, the Constitution gives Congress the “power of the purse.” The House and Senate must agree on appropriations deals for all departments. The president’s budget simply puts down a marker for what kind of spending bills the president would be willing to sign.
In a press conference March 16, Mulvaney pointed out the budget proposal doesn’t add to the deficit, but it also does not balance the budget. But, he said, the White House plans to release in May a larger budget plan that addresses “nondiscretionary” spending, or spending that is considered mandatory because it was approved by previous congresses. That includes “entitlement” programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The May budget will tackle that $2.4 trillion part of the budget, and will also chart a “fiscal path” that will address the $20 trillion national debt, Mulvaney said.
Ag and environment changes
Though the 62-page plan includes few details, some of the two-page agency overviews give a flavor for Trump’s vision regarding agriculture and the environment. For example, the newly-downsized EPA would see more than 50 programs and approximately 3,200 positions eliminated. EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance budget would be reduced by $129 million to a level of $419 million.
The agency would no longer fund Obama-era climate initiatives such as the “Clean Power Plan,” international climate change programs, and climate change research. Climate programs at the State Department and other agencies would also be eliminated.
The plan does promise EPA “robust funding for critical drinking and wastewater infrastructure.” The Interior and Agriculture budgets would include similar water funds.
No mention was made of the Waters of the U.S. rule, although on Feb. 28 the president did order the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider the rule. Furthermore, the budget plan makes general statements promising to eliminate “unnecessary and wasteful regulations” that “unnecessarily inhibit growth and employment.”
As for the USDA, the plan proposes full funding for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, and continued support for farmer-focused research and extension partnerships at land-grant universities.
Federal lands issues are addressed in both the USDA and Interior sections. Funding will be reduced for “major new Federal land acquisition.” Instead, the budget focuses on proper management of existing federal lands. It supports “stewardship capacity for land management operations of the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management” and promises to “leverage taxpayer investment with public and private resources through wildlife conservation, historic preservation, and recreation grants.”
Ample funds for wildland fire preparedness and suppression are promised in both the USDA and Interior sections. The Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program would continue. PILT compensates western states and counties for tax-exempt federal lands within their borders.
During the March 16 press conference, Mulvaney indicated the administration’s desire to reform the regulatory environment; reorganize the executive branch; and to stop funding programs that have not been authorized or reauthorized by Congress. Many programs that carry hardhitting and expansive regulations, such as the Endangered Species Act, haven’t been reauthorized for decades.
If the budget blueprint is any indication, the regulatory agencies are in for a big shakeup. The document is prefaced by summaries of the president’s executive orders to reform the regulatory environment and to reorganize the executive branch to improve its “effectiveness, efficiency, cybersecurity, and accountability.”
As reported on Jan. 27, Trump issued hiring and regulations freezes upon assuming office. Then, on Jan.
30, he signed Executive Order 13771, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs”—requiring that for every new federal regulation, two must be removed. Under this order, the president will put annual caps on the total regulatory costs imposed on the private sector (the cap for 2017 is $0).
Next, on Feb. 24, he signed Executive Order 13777, the “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” It establishes within each agency a Regulatory Reform Officer and a Regulatory Reform Task Force to carry out the president’s reform priorities.
Then, on March 13, the president signed Executive Order 13781, calling for an ambitious “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch.” According to the order, in roughly one year, Congress will receive from the president and the Office of Management and Budget a reorganization proposal that eliminates duplicative agencies and introduces new methods for holding agencies accountable.
The reorganization task will ultimately require congressional action.
Congress must act
The current appropriations law expires April 28, at which point Congress must come to an agreement on new spending legislation for the remainder of fiscal year 2017. Then, fiscal year 2018 is right around the corner; it starts in October.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has reportedly been tepid on his support for the president’s budget, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) appears supportive.
“I welcome the president’s blueprint for next year’s budget, which turns the page from the last eight years,” said Ryan in a statement. “We are determined to work with the administration to shrink the size of government, grow our economy, secure our borders, and ensure our troops have the tools necessary to complete their missions.”— Theodora Johnson, WLJ Correspondent