White House readies first Trump budget that could take aim at popular programs

Programs such as the CPB, NEA, NEH and AmeriCorps could be targeted.

ByBenjamin Siegel, Alexander Mallin and John Parkinson
February 22, 2017, 5:32 PM

— -- The White House is preparing its first budget with an eye on conservative budget outlines authored by the Republican Study Committee and Heritage Foundation, according to sources familiar with the process.

Both the RSC and Heritage Foundation's most recent blueprints aim to balance the budget in less than 10 years, balancing domestic cuts with entitlement reform.

Both take aim at frequent conservative targets like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. They also limit funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development partnership between the federal and local governments in Appalachia, along with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Asked about the details of the upcoming budget and whether the same programs could be targeted in the White House budget, Office of Management and Budget spokesman John Baker said nothing has been "predetermined."

"While crafting the budget, we use our own internal expertise and that process is ongoing," he said in an email.

The New York Times reported last week that OMB could eliminate the domestic programs. The savings from those domestic programs -- a few hundred million dollars each -- would do little to curb government spending in a $4 trillion annual budget.

"The actual spending in those programs is fairly small compared to the whole budget picture," said Romina Boccia, who studies federal spending at the Heritage Foundation.

A common frustration among many conservatives is the apparent hypocrisy that Republicans only care about the debt during Democratic administrations, but spending is good during Republican administrations. Republican aides stress that lawmakers must tackle entitlement reform in order to successfully address the annual budget deficit and produce a balanced blueprint.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters today that the administration will release its budget plan around mid-March. According to an administration official, the initial plan will be a slimmed-down budget blueprint that would be followed by a larger, more detailed budget proposal.

Another GOP aide on Capitol Hill said lawmakers have been told to expect the proposal around March 14.

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman tasked with preparing the budget proposal to present to Congress, was confirmed only last week.

Ed Lorenzen, a senior adviser for the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said the "really big question" for the administration is "how they balance all their initiatives and priorities with the goal of decreasing the debt."

Trump's campaign-trail promises of a border wall with Mexico and a massive infrastructure spending bill will be tough to square with longstanding GOP principles of balancing the budget, Lorenzen said. Trump has said he wants to increase military spending as well.

"A balanced budget is fine, but sometimes you have to fuel the well in order to really get the economy going," Trump recently told Fox News. "I want a balanced budget eventually, but I want to have a strong military."

"The challenge is showing how he can make all his campaign promises fit together in a budget that adds up," Lorenzen said.

The White House is also considering relying on "rosy" economic growth projections to pay for their initiatives, a controversial budgeting practice first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, frustration is mounting among congressional Republicans who believe their leadership is deferring too much to the administration -- leaving Congress without any meaningful votes through two months of legislative activity while waiting for President Trump to specify what he wants to accomplish.

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