Trump budget recommends major cuts to federal government

Reductions included in federal budget proposal could have a significant impact in Maryland.

In his first federal budget proposal, President Donald Trump has recommended deep spending cuts to federal agencies overseeing housing, the environment and diplomacychanges that would likely lead to a smaller federal workforce.

Following through on campaign promises, the proposal — unveiled Thursday — calls for a "fairly dramatic" reduction at the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency and increases at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

"If he said it on the campaign, it's in the budget," said Mick Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina who is now director of the Office of Management and Budget. "We wrote it using the president's own words."

The proposal recommends reductions that could have a significant impact in Maryland, from federal grants for urban redevelopment to a reduction in EPA programs that police water and air pollution. Increases in defense spending could have a positive economic impact on the state's large military presence.

The budget eliminates funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration, a program that has enjoyed bipartisan support for years, along with a similiar effort for the Great Lakes — saving $427 million. It reduces funding at the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion.

Community Development Block Grant funding, a program that has been used to spur revitalization in Baltimore and other cities, would be cut entirely. The program has been criticized by conservatives for not achieving clear goals.

"The federal government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results," according to the document. "The budget devolves community and economic development activities to the state and local level."

Unlike in state government, the president's budget rarely reflects the actual spending that's eventually approved by Congress. Several Republicans on Capitol Hill, who must approve legislation to fund the government by the end of April, have said Trump's proposal stands little chance of advancing.

"We will see whether that budget can garner support of Republicans, much less Democrats," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the House Democratic Whip. "I think it cannot."

But the document does reveal the administration's priorities, and it signals to lawmakers that reductions to particular programs — or entire departments — will have support from the White House. Administration officials are unveiling a "skinny budget," which outlines Trump's priorities but not delve into more challenging issues such as the taxes or entitlements.

The proposal calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending that would be offset by cuts to other parts of the government. It would recommend a 28 percent reduction at the State Department, which would come mostly from foreign aid, Mulvaney said. It would call for cutting off funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — a favorite Republican target.

The plan includes a 6 percent increase for the Department of Homeland Security, which is leading the administration's effort to crack down on immigrants in the country illegally. It will also include $1.5 billion to begin work on Trump's proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Mulvaney declined to say whether federal employees would be furloughed or laid off under the proposal, saying that departments would have wide flexibility to implement top-line cuts. But it is unlikely departments would be able to "shrink the role of government," as Mulvaney put it, without also shrinking the size of the workforce.

Cuts to federal employment would have an economic impact in Maryland, where some 300,000 residents — roughly 10 percent of the workforce — work for a civilian federal agency . Maryland is ranked third in the nation in per capita federal spending, nearly $16,000 for each resident, according to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Asked about the potential impact on Maryland and Virginia if the cuts are approved, Mulvaney indicated it wasn't a primary concern. The region has benefited significantly from federal spending in recent years, allowing it to weather the recent recession better than other parts of the country.

"The president of the United States, he represents the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland, but he also represents the rest of the country," Mulvaney told reporters at the White House. "And I can assure you that we did not write this budget with eye toward what it would do to the value of your condo."

Some budget items appear to be at odds with Trump's rhetoric. He has repeatedly vowed to improve struggling cities like Baltimore and Detroit, and has suggested much of that work would be accomplished through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But the proposal is includes a $6.2 billion or 13.2 percent cut to that department.

"These cuts could put more than 200,000 families and seniors at immediate risk of eviction and homelessness and will starve local communities of the funding they need to build and repair affordable homes and revitalize distressed communities," said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The budget includes a $20 million increase for mitigation of lead-based paint and other hazards in low-income homes.

Mulvaney said the housing agency had "spent a lot of money on housing and urban development over the last decade without a lot to show for it." He did not discuss specifics, but said Trump would achieve improvements to cities through other initiatives such as promoting school choice.

Budget hawks, meanwhile, have already criticized the proposal for not balancing, despite the deep cuts. Trump pledged to eliminate the national debt, but his first budget would instead add $488 billion to it.

Mulvaney said the proposal would not add more to the deficit — that is, the shortfall in the proposed budget would not be worse than last year's — and said the document does not include recommendations to change safety net programs. Trump promised during the campaign to preserve Medicare and Social Security, but changes to those programs will eventually be needed to address deficits.

The White House will offer a more comprehensive budget document in May.

"This is a budget blueprint," Mulvaney said, "not a complete budget."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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