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Proposed Trump budget to hike defence spending

Feb 27 2017 09:30
Shannon Pettypiece and Jennifer Jacobs

New York - President Donald Trump is proposing major defence spending increases and big cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), State Department and other federal agencies in a proposed budget to be presented soon to Congress, said a person familiar with the plan.

The outline of the budget will be made public as early as Monday, according to two White House officials. They declined to comment further on what the budget may entail. Trump is scheduled to make an address to Congress on Tuesday night.

Congress ultimately determines how the federal government’s money is spent, and the White House budget is mostly an opening bid in what could be a protracted process to set a federal spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump’s first budget won’t touch entitlement programs such as Social Security or Medicare. It will instead focus on ways to produce long-term economic growth by slashing taxes, he said in an interview taped Friday and broadcast Sunday on Fox News Channel.

The New York Times reported Sunday evening that the budget will assume economic growth of 2.4%, below the 3% growth Trump has pledged. Mnuchin said that the administration thinks a combination of tax cuts and regulatory relief will lead to economic growth of 3% or higher. “We’re going to make sure this works,” he said in the Fox interview. “This is all about creating growth.”

Defence budget

A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, which compiles the document, declined to comment on its details. He said the outline wouldn’t address entitlements or tax changes, which would be included in a fuller budget proposal later in the year.

"The president and his Cabinet are working collaboratively to create a budget that keeps the president’s promises to secure the country and restore fiscal sanity to how we spend American taxpayers’ money," the spokesman, John Czwartacki, said in an email.

One top national security official said the budget’s main thrust is to boost defence spending, as Trump has repeatedly promised. The president has called the US military, the world’s largest, “badly depleted.”

“We’re also putting in a massive budget request for our beloved military,” Trump said in a speech February 24 at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “We will be substantially upgrading all of our military, all of our military, offensive, defensive, everything, bigger and better and stronger than ever before. And hopefully, we’ll never have to use it, but nobody’s gonna mess with us, folks, nobody.”

But the State Department will not share in the largesse. One of the agency’s deputy secretary positions, in charge of management and resources, is expected to be eliminated and its staff reassigned, people familiar with the plan said.

Trump and his aides also are reviewing whether to eliminate many special envoy positions, the people said - diplomatic staff assigned to key regions and issues, including climate change, anti-Semitism and Muslim communities.

The EPA, meanwhile, has been a consistent target for Trump. He’s said the agency has too many regulations that burden companies and cause long delays for businesses trying to get approvals for new factories.

Trump’s pick for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, was a long-time foe of the agency as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Trump is slated to sign documents as soon as Monday compelling the EPA to begin undoing recent regulations, including the Clean Power Plan that slashes greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation and the Waters of the US rule that defined which waterways are subject to pollution regulation.

“Its clogged the bloodstream of our country,” Trump said of the agency earlier this month. “People can’t do anything, people are looking to get approvals for factories for 15 years.”

Two-thirds cut

The EPA is a perennial target for budget cuts for some conservatives in Congress, and advisers on Trump’s transition team said its funding and staff could be slashed below its $8.3bn budget this fiscal year. Myron Ebell, who led the Trump transition team focused on the EPA, said the agency’s workforce could be cut to a third of its current size - about 15 000 employees nationwide.

Pruitt declined to say whether his agency’s resources could be sharply reduced during a question-and-answer session at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday.

The White House’s budget outline, a so-called “skinny budget,” is essentially a summary document often used by new presidents to provide advance looks at an administration’s policy and funding priorities. Typically, more details come from the White House in a fuller budget document later.

House and Senate committees don’t have to embrace the president’s proposals, as presented.

They will hold hearings to establish a congressional budget resolution laying out a framework for anticipated revenues and discretionary spending allocations for the 12 annual appropriations bills for the next fiscal year, which begins October 1. That budget resolution is adopted by Congress, but is not signed by the president.

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