The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

It’s not just programs for the poor. Trump’s budget calls for vast changes to government.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney called the budget plan a “Taxpayer First Budget,” on May 23, and defended cuts to anti-poverty programs. (Video: Reuters, Photo: MANDEL NGAN/Reuters)
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President Trump on Tuesday proposed a new process for closing numerous military bases, the elimination of government funding for public radio and television, and cuts of more than $1 billion to after-school programs.

He called to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), defund several programs that study climate change, cut research on infectious diseases and reduce the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by 50 percent.

Much of the focus on Trump's $4.094 trillion budget plan has been on the large reductions in safety net programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but there are dozens of smaller budget cuts that, in aggregate, would amount to a major realignment of the government’s role in society.

Aside from national defense and border security, Trump’s plan would put the onus on states, companies, churches and charities to offer many educational, scientific and social services that have long been provided by the federal government. This was the overriding goal in revamping numerous anti-poverty programs, prodding states to do more to limit the number of people who seek and receive benefits.

Top White House advisers said that the government spends too much and that a dramatic reduction is necessary to make the government — and its presence in society — smaller.

“We're no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said  Tuesday.

The budget would also cut retirement benefits for federal employees, reduce health-care benefits for low-income children and make it harder to qualify for disability benefits.

These changes, the White House said, are necessary to eliminate the deficit over 10 years, though many critics have questioned the budget math used to wipe out the gap between spending and revenue. Because the government spends more than it brings in through revenue, the government runs a deficit, which adds to the federal debt each year.

“If I take money from you and I have no intention of ever giving it back, that is not debt, that is theft,” Mulvaney said. “And if we're going to borrow money from people, we have to have a plan for how we are going to pay it back.”

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended the projection of unemployment rates in the administration's 2018 budget proposal on May 23. (Video: Reuters)

Under Trump’s plan, a number of the government’s biggest obligations would remain intact. It would continue to fully finance Medicare and Social Security retirement benefits, which combined will account for $1.5 trillion in federal spending next year.

But myriad other programs would be structurally changed. The White House proposes reducing the size of the federal workforce (though it doesn’t specify by how much) and trimming regulation in a way that top aides argue will foster more economic growth. Workforce training programs run by the Labor Department would be scaled back.

Critics have raised alarms that the changes would cut the government’s investment in future growth, making companies less competitive.

“The budget shrinks the core parts of government — the parts that do education, research, infrastructure — to unprecedentedly low levels for a modern economy,” said Jason Furman, who was a top economic adviser during the Obama administration. “In doing so, I think it would make it harder — not easier — to reach the outlandishly high growth target that the administration has set for itself.”

The budget would crack down on the CFPB, an agency created after the financial crisis that is designed to ensure that lenders don't rip off consumers. It proposes reducing the CFPB's funding by $6.8 billion between 2018 and 2027. The watchdog agency is an “unaccountable bureaucracy controlled by an independent director with unchecked regulatory authority and punitive power,” the White House said in its budget request. The agency needs to be restructured, it said, and limiting its budget in 2018 would “allow for an efficient transition period.”

Supporters of the CFPB, however, believe weakening it will make it easier for lenders to trap borrowers with predatory loans. Similarly, the Trump budget plan would strip some money from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Trump administration renewed a long-held call by the Pentagon for a new round of base realignments and closures, saying it could save $2 billion per year that could be spent on boosting military readiness.

The request asks Congress to authorize the Defense Department to begin studying base realignment, with an eye toward carrying out the plan in 2021. But there could be strong resistance on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have long been resistant to base closures in their districts.

The last round of base realignment was carried out in 2005 by the administration of President George W. Bush.

The White House is also proposing to shift the way it delivers some foreign aid programs, replacing grants with loans that must be repaid.

Not all of the budget is red ink, though.

In its $27.7 billion budget request, the Justice Department asked for $26 million for 300 new prosecutors in U.S. attorney's offices nationwide to support Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s emphasis on targeting violent criminals and prosecuting illegal immigrants. An additional $75 million was requested for 75 more immigration judges to adjudicate removal proceedings for people in the United States illegally. About $80 million was sought to fully open an underused federal prison in Thomson, Ill., which was once considered as a possible facility to hold Guantánamo prisoners and would provide the Bureau of Prisons with 1,500 to 2,000 more beds.

And at least one of the cuts the White House had threatened has been pulled back.

The budget would retain the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which had been threatened with virtual extinction, with $368.5 million in funding, a small decrease from its 2017 funding.

In an email to full-time employees this month, Richard Baum, the acting director of the office, said the administration’s proposal for the fiscal year that begins in October would reflect “a nearly 95 percent” cut in the agency’s budget. That appears to have been largely reversed, and the office’s two major programs — the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program and the Drug-Free Communities Support Program — have been retained.