Lawmakers expect to rewrite Trump’s budget

Source: By George Cahlink, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 17, 2017

Lawmakers aren’t embracing the proposed steep cuts in President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget, calling the blueprint only the opening bid in what they expect will be protracted spending negotiations.

The country’s new chief executive sees himself as a master negotiator. In that regard, the president’s calls for slashing U.S. EPA spending by nearly a third and gutting of various energy and climate change programs are likely a bargaining chip to force Congress into making at least some cuts in those areas.

Congress almost always makes significant changes to White House budget requests, and lawmakers from both parties say this year will be no different.

They say to expect months of negotiations, which will run right up against the start of fiscal 2018 on Oct. 1 and will likely include a fight over raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) stressed repeatedly this morning that the budget submission was “only the beginning.”

While Ryan generally favors boosting the military and cutting other spending, as Trump’s proposal would do, Congress will sort out the details over the next several months, he said.

“Do I think we can cut spending and get waste out of government? Absolutely. Where, how and what numbers? That’s something we’ll be figuring out as time goes on,” Ryan told reporters this morning.

Already, appropriators, who write the 12 annual spending bills, are suggesting they might not go along with the deep domestic cuts Trump requested.

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) did not endorse any of Trump’s proposals in a statement today, saying only that lawmakers would take a close look at the president’s request.

“I’m optimistic that we can strike a balance that will enable us to fund the federal government responsibly and address emergency needs, while ensuring this legislation will clear the Congress,” Frelinghuysen said.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who chairs the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, noted widespread appropriator discontent over the push to increase defense spending at the expense of other agencies.

“I don’t think it’s particularly realistic to finance an increase in defense funding on the backs of non-defense discretionary programs,” he said in an interview this morning. “As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I know that many of our members are deeply concerned about that.”

Dent said he was still reviewing the president’s proposal but noted that “the president proposes, and the Congress disposes.”

Democrats were quick to criticize the cuts and said the president should offer a more realistic plan that stands a chance at becoming law.

“This blueprint is not a serious proposal. President Trump should stop wasting time on budget proposals that cannot pass a Republican Congress and instead put forward sensible budget and policy proposals,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Highlighting one of the fights to come, Pallone called cuts to climate change programs “particularly embarrassing” because the United States has long been a leader in combating global warming.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also said the budget stands no chance of being implemented. He added that “many rational Republicans will refuse to sit back and watch America take itself apart piece by piece” and called for bipartisan work on spending bills.

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.