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President Trump's budget increases defense spending, slashes domestic programs, including for Chesapeake Bay

President Trump's budget increases defense spending, slashes domestic programs, including for Chesapeake Bay
President Donald Trump's budget would cut by 90 percent the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates collaboration among six states and the District of Columbia, the federal government and the Chesapeake Bay Commission to uphold a "pollution diet" established for the bay. (Joshua McKerrow / Capital Gazette)

President Donald Trump proposed a record $4.7 trillion federal budget for 2020 on Monday, which increases military spending while making historic cuts to domestic programs.

Troubling to Maryland environmental advocates is a 90 percent cut to funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which they say has been an essential tool for the estuary’s recovery in recent years.

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Trump's proposal for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, sets up a showdown with Congress over priorities, including his push for $8.6 billion to build the U.S-Mexico border wall. The budget proposes increasing defense spending to $750 billion — and building the new Space Force as a military branch — while reducing nondefense accounts by 5 percent, with cuts recommended to economic safety-net programs used by many Americans.

The $2.7 trillion in proposed domestic spending cuts over the next decade is higher than any administration’s reductions in history.

Trump again is asking Congress to slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by about a third, a request that Congress previously rejected. The budget request seeks $6.1 billion for the EPA, down 31 percent from current spending. The White House said it aims to ensure clean air and water and chemical safety while “reducing regulatory burden and eliminating lower-priority activities.”

The budget calls the approach “MAGAnomics,” after the president's “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.

“Instead of a budget proposal that puts the well-being of American families first, the Trump Budget irresponsibly cuts funding to the programs that many Americans rely on most — all while asking for billions for an ineffective wall,” Rep. Elijah Cummings said in a statement.

The cuts to domestic spending, Cummings said, “will risk hard-working Marylanders’ financial security, imperil needed infrastructure improvements, and damage our state’s environment.”

The cuts would slash EPA spending on its Chesapeake Bay Program from $73 million to $7.3 million. The program coordinates collaboration among six states and the District of Columbia, the federal government and the Chesapeake Bay Commission to uphold a "pollution diet" established for the bay in 2010.

The proposed budget “would stop in its tracks a program that has been heralded for decades as the model for pollution reduction nationwide,” said Will Baker, director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Though Trump has twice before proposed drastic cuts to the Chesapeake Bay Program, Baker said the new budget cuts nevertheless came as a surprise. Baker said he had just met recently with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who touted his support for the program.

“He told me that everywhere he goes in this country he boasts about the success of the Chesapeake Bay Program,” Baker said. “And this is cutting the program off at the knees.”

An EPA spokesman said additional details about the bay program would be available with the release of the Congressional Justification on March 18.

Tom Pelton, spokesman for the Environmental Integrity Project and author of the book “The Chesapeake in Focus,” called the cuts “an absolute insult to everyone who loves the Chesapeake Bay.” The budget, he predicted, “will be dead on arrival.”

Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s only Republican Congressman, said he supports current funding levels for the Chesapeake Bay Program and promised to work on the Appropriations Committee to shift money back into it.

The budget also imposes work requirements for those receiving food stamps and other government aid as part of the cutbacks. The Department of Housing and Urban Development faces a 16 percent cut and for Education, a 12 percent reduction.

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Trump's budget would reopen two health care battles he lost in his first year in office: repealing “Obamacare” and limiting future federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people. Under the budget, both programs would be turned over to the states starting in 2021.

Under Trump's proposal, the budget deficit is projected to hit $1.1 trillion next year — the highest in a decade.

By refusing to raise the budget caps, Trump is signaling a fight ahead. The president has resisted big bipartisan budget deals that break the caps — threatening to veto one last year — but Congress will need to find agreement on spending levels to avoid another federal shutdown in the fall.

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Leading Democrats rejected the budget proposal immediately.

“Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

They said the money “would be better spent on rebuilding America.”

The border wall remains a signature issue for the president and is poised to stay at the forefront of his agenda, even though Congress has resisted giving him more money for it.

In seeking $8.6 billion for more than 300 miles of new border wall, the budget request would more than double the $8.1 billion already potentially available to the president for the wall after he declared a national emergency at the border last month to circumvent Congress — although there's no guarantee he'll be able to use that money if he faces a legal challenge, as is expected.

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