By Ted Mann, Dante Chinni and Siobhan Hughes
Republicans were quick to lodge objections on Thursday to President Donald Trump's budget plans, many of which trim away smaller programs that help the sort of local communities he vowed to rejuvenate during the campaign.
The response suggests Mr. Trump's first blueprint for federal spending, like many before his, is likely to undergo a major rewrite by Congress.
While Republicans lawmakers embraced the president's impulses to boost military spending by cutting what some consider wasteful programs, they then began scouring through the fine print for details about school-enrichment, environmental cleanup and other programs. That's when they immediately began planning to shift the burden of cutbacks elsewhere.
Republican leadership, including House Speaker Paul Ryan gave a muted endorsement. Mr. Ryan said that Mr. Trump's proposal marked only the beginning of the budget process. "We'll have a full hearing about how priorities will be met," Mr. Ryan said. "But, do I think we can cut spending and get waste out of government? Absolutely. Where and how and what numbers, that's something we'll be figuring out as time goes on."
Steve Bell, a longtime budget aide who is now a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the proposal had no chance of passing Congress.
"It is a budget that is more for messaging and public relation purposes for the Republican base than it is as a serious effort," he said. He added that the spending proposal would "hit places that even many Republicans think is inappropriate."
Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) issued a forceful objection to the proposal to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program funded through the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at cleaning up a cluster of lakes along the northern border.
The proposed cuts could have some of their most profound effects in areas where he racked up his largest margins of victory last fall: the country's rural, economically challenged regions. Take the Appalachian Regional Commission, a $146 million economic development and workforce training agency dating to the antipoverty reforms of President Lyndon Johnson, whose coverage area stretches from New York to northern Mississippi. Of the 420 counties in 13 states served by the commission, Mr. Trump won 399 of them, trouncing Democrat Hillary Clinton. Across the Appalachian region, Mr. Trump won 63% of the vote, compared with 33% for Mrs. Clinton.
The commission, which was authorized to receive $146 million in federal funds in 2016, is one of 19 independent agencies and partnerships that would be eliminated from the federal budget, to save $2.7 billion. Agencies targeted include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney Thursday argued the cuts to programs used to give meals for seniors and students were "compassionate" because they will reduce the tax burden on many Americans. The U.S. government can't afford to continue to fund programs "just because they sound good," he said.
"Regarding the question as to climate change," Mr. Mulvaney said, "I think the President was fairly straightforward -- we're not spending money on that anymore; we consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that. So that is a specific tie to his campaign."
Mr. Bell said many of the services proposed to take major hits in the Trump budget -- from nutritional assistance to women and children, to supplemental education grants -- primarily benefit white and rural communities like those that supported Mr. Trump.
"A lot of people came out of rural America because of government programs, and the vast majority of them were white," Mr. Bell said. "You're starting to really cut at the idea of equalizing the chance of a young person from Darien, Conn., and somebody from Palestine, W.Va., having an equal chance of getting to college. And I think that's going to hurt" Republicans.
History shows that presidents have a hard time realizing the most ambitious of their budget-cutting plans. President Ronald Reagan proposed eliminating the Department of Education, without success.
At the same time, Mr. Reagan's record shows that Congress can be cajoled to endorse deep spending cuts. Mr. Reagan won $35.2 billion worth of cuts from projected fiscal 1982 spending levels in his first-ever budget battle, cutting the school-lunch program and arts funding.
But weeks after he had signed those reductions into law, Congress balked at a new request for $13 billion in cuts, and Mr. Reagan had to settle for only $4 billion.
"In general, the U.S. government does things incrementally, so big changes seldom happen unless there's a crisis," said analyst Stan Collender, who tracks the U.S. budget. "It's even harder to make big changes now, because we've had about a decade of steady pressure budgets of agencies, and if they're still around at this point, they just have the political support to stick around."
Some Republicans say voters will cheer Mr. Trump's cuts, even if they feel the impact of them in the very towns that helped to elect him president.
"I think the Trump supporters expected President Trump to slash the federal government very significantly," said Ed Brookover, a longtime Republican strategist who briefly worked for Mr. Trump's campaign last year."They're not the kinds of folks who look to Washington for solutions to all their problems."
Yet Mr. Trump's budget comes after his embrace of a House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act that has alarmed some Republicans, and such moderate Democrats as Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), who say the party could face serious political backlash from the same working-class voters if it pulls back health care without providing an adequate replacement.
Mr. Manchin said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this week that he had told Mr. Trump that he could be blamed by voters for pulling back the Medicaid expansion that was a part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
"Those people don't know how they got these services," Mr. Manchin said he told Mr. Trump. "They didn't know it was the Democrats. They didn't know it was President Obama. They had no idea. But let me tell you, Mr. President, they're going to know who took it away from them. They will know if they lose it."
The administration's call to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant Program, which is run out of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and supports local efforts from infrastructure building to Meals on Wheels, the food program for senior citizens, also drew resistance.
"Everybody thinks that's going to Detroit and Cleveland, but the fact of the matter is there are a lot of cities in Appalachia and elsewhere that really need community development block grants," Mr. Bell said.
The White House says it can save $3 billion a year by killing the program. "The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results," the administration's budget blueprint says. But among the those who criticized the cut was Rep. Bruce Poliquin(R., Maine), whose district favored Mr. Trump by 10 percentage points.
In rural Tennessee, the CDBG program is vital for building and maintaining water and sewer infrastructure, especially in small, rural towns with no other ready sources of funding, said Mike Harrison, executive director of the Association of County Mayors in the state.
"It's spread out, but obviously our more rural counties would be impacted more with the loss of those funds," he said. "They really depend on those."
The proposed cuts in the White House budget would also hit the Denali Commission, which develops infrastructure and health-care facilities in rural Alaska, a state Mr. Trump won easily; and the Delta Regional Authority, which promotes economic development in a region of 10 million people around the Mississippi River and the deep red precincts of the South.
Trump won 198 of the 252 counties in the Delta Regional Authority, carrying the vote there by 56% compared with 40% for Mrs. Clinton.
The blueprint also targets programs important to the constituencies of moderate Republicans and those with large rural constituencies, who expressed alarm at cuts in money to support air-travel to rural airport and other programs.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R., Pa.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) both warned about plans to eliminate the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes flights to rural airports. Mr. Shuster has an airport in Altoona, Pa., that would be affected, as would 60 communities in Ms. Murkowski's state.
"While I support the president's emphasis on a strong national defense, I cannot support many of the proposed cuts," Ms. Murkowski said in a statement. "We need to remember that these programs are not the primary drivers of our debt, and to look at the full budget to find the best ways to reduce federal spending."
In Pennsylvania, Republican Rep. Lou Barletta vowed to protect funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which are grants for after-school programs that the budget proposes eliminating to save $1.2 billion, and for grants provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help mitigate the impact of natural disasters.
"There's always room for negotiations," said Mr. Barletta, an early Trump supporter. "We're going to look through line item by line item and see where we can encourage more spending."
Not every Republican was unsettled; some said their districts would come out ahead. Rep. Rob Bishop (R., Utah) said the budget "brings an element of stability back into the government process" because it strives for balance.
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March 16, 2017 21:09 ET (01:09 GMT)
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