The Trump administration's first budget triggered a swift reaction Thursday morning, with members of Congress, government workers, industry groups and others protesting the elimination of dozens of federal programs, including funding for scientific research, the arts, foreign aid and programs to help the poor.
The budget would deliver an additional $54 billion in defense spending, paid for by dramatic cuts to other discretionary spending. Those cuts including massive funding decreases for the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and more than 16 other agencies, as well as the full elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the U.S. Institute of Peace and others.
“Throwing billions at defense while ransacking America’s investments in jobs, education, clean energy and lifesaving medical research will leave our nation weakened,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “The President’s budget blueprint fails to recognize America’s strength depends on more than military spending; it depends on the power of our diplomacy, the health of our economy and the vitality of our communities.”
“Democrats in Congress will emphatically oppose these cuts & urge our Republican colleagues to reject them as well,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted.
Congressional Republicans also protested cuts that might hurt their districts and states. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who had been White House budget director under President George W. Bush, issued a statement “strongly opposing” Trump's proposed elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Portman vowed to “fight to preserve” the program, which he said had been “an invaluable resource” to Ohio by generating more than $80 billion in benefits in health, tourism and recreation.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who has argued for a funding increase to the National Institutes of Health, an agency for which the Trump administration would reduce spending, said in a statement Thursday that the budget is just the first step in the appropriations process. “There are many concerns with non-defense discretionary cuts. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be holding hearings with cabinet secretaries and others involved to determine funding priorities for fiscal year 2018,” he said.
But as news of the proposed cuts spread, leaders of many imperiled programs were already responding.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting objected to the cuts in a statement Thursday morning. “The elimination of federal funding to CPB would initially devastate and ultimately destroy public media’s role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions,” said Patricia Harrison, CPB president.
“Public media is one of America’s best investments. At approximately $1.35 per citizen per year, it pays huge dividends to every American.”
The National Endowment for the Arts, which would also have its funding completely severed under the proposed budget, said that it cannot engage in advocacy due to its position as a federal government agency, but that it would continue to educate people about the role it plays in American communities.
“We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation,” NEA Chairman Jane Chu said.
The budget is being seen as a boon for some industries, including defense contractors and the construction and consulting companies that are bidding to build the border wall. Companies in the oil and gas industry are also expected to save expenses as a result of cuts in environmental regulations and benefit from greater access to federal lands.
But other companies and industry groups that do business with the federal government are expected to suffer, including those that commercialize government-led scientific research, developers of low income housing, and sellers of energy efficient products.
United for Medical Research, a coalition of research institutions and industries, said Thursday morning that the proposed $5.8 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health would have “serious repercussions on medical research, jobs and the economy.”
“Federal energy R&D is central to U.S. innovation and competitiveness,” said Norman Augustine, co-chairman of the American Energy Innovation Council, a group of business leaders who support energy research, and a former chief executive of Lockheed Martin. “When you want to lighten an airplane load, you don't start by throwing out the engines.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also issued a statement decrying the heavy proposed cuts to foreign aid.
"In just 25 years, American investments overseas have helped prevent the deaths of 122 million children, cut extreme poverty in half, and put the world on the verge of eradicating polio," said Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the foundation's CEO. "Foreign aid, and investments in research and development, have played a vital role in achieving this progress."
The proposed budget needs congressional approval before it is enacted, and some of these cuts may never materialize. But it provides the clearest view into how the administration plans to transform campaign promises into governance.
In an introduction to the budget proposal, President Trump wrote that the budget blueprint would reprioritize federal spending to cut waste and advance “the safety and security of the American people.”
Speaking in Japan, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended the sweeping cuts to his agency by saying that the level of State Department spending in the past “is simply not sustainable.”
In a brief, nine-sentence letter emailed to State Department employees Thursday morning, Tillerson addressed the major changes ahead. In coming weeks, he said, the department will draft a budget to incorporate the cuts by setting priorities and “putting our people in a position to succeed.”
The budget, with its 28 percent decrease for State and USAID, he added, “acknowledges that U.S. engagement must be more efficient, that our aid be more effective, and that advocating the national interests of our country always be our primary mission. Additionally, the budget is an acknowledgment that development needs are a global challenge to be met not just by contributions from the United States, but through greater partnership with and contributions from our allies and others.”
Carol Morello and Steven Mufson contributed to this report.