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The Pentagon wins and diplomacy loses in Trump's 'hard power' budget

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The Trump administration is proposing dramatic cuts to the State Department as part of a budget blueprint that would ramp up defense spending and commit more than $4 billion for construction of a border wall with Mexico, setting up a battle with Democrats and potentially even fellow Republicans over government spending priorities, reported Los Angeles Times (US).

In addition to a 28% reduction in the State Department’s budget, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies could also see double-digit percentage reductions in their funding under the administration’s plan, aides said Wednesday in previewing the budget.

President Trump’s budget reflects the realization of many promises that he made to voters in the campaign, seeking to add $54 billion to the Pentagon’s budget to be offset by cuts elsewhere, beginning with U.S. foreign aid. The government allocated about $28 billion for foreign aid and humanitarian assistance in the current fiscal year.

The spending plan seeks to slash even modest federal outlays, beginning the process of eliminating all funding to the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, for instance.

“You had an ‘America first’ candidate, you have an ‘America first’ budget,” said Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and a conservative former congressman from South Carolina. “We went looking for the most inefficient, most wasteful, most indefensible programs.”

Exact spending levels the White House is proposing in so-called discretionary programs for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 will be released later Thursday. A more detailed, line-by-line plan will come in May.
But the initial blueprint reflects long-held ambitions of conservatives eager to shrink the size and scope of the federal government, with one exception for the moment: spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that are among the biggest drivers of federal spending.

The latter point is where Trump, who pledged to protect and strengthen those entrenched safety net programs, differs most dramatically with a fellow Republican who has long pushed for a new approach, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

More immediately, the Trump administration’s plans for sweeping cuts in foreign aid may be dead on arrival with GOP lawmakers who stress the need for a more balanced approach emphasizing both military strength and a commitment to diplomacy.

“This is a hard power budget. It is not a soft power budget,” Mulvaney said. “The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this is a strong power administration.”
In addition to its spending plan, the administration plans to make a supplemental funding request that will include $30 billion for defense and border protection.

The administration is seeking $1.5 billion in the upcoming fiscal year and an additional $2.6 billion the following year to begin construction of the president’s signature border wall. Mulvaney told reporters the administration will use the funds in “different pilot cases” that will help determine the safest and most cost-efficient methods for securing areas along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Barriers including fencing are already in place along about a third of the 2,000-mile border.

Though the president had promised in his campaign to help revive inner cities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will see major spending cuts. So too will the Department of Transportation, despite Trump’s pledge to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Mulvaney explained that the spending plan will still work to address Trump’s objectives in those areas, but that they can only be accomplished in part by eliminating programs that have failed to achieve those goals.
“One of the other things that the president said was that he was going to go after wasteful programs, duplicative programs, programs that simply don’t work. And a lot of those are in HUD,” he said. “A lot of the president’s other policies, education, for example, speak to his work that he wants to see done in the inner cities.”

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No more mission to bring astronauts to an asteroid, but stable funding for a trip to Mars. A cut in Earth science programs, but support for a mission to study Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Elimination of education programs, but more resources to improve cybersecurity of the space program, reported USA Today.

President Trump is proposing a $19.1 billion budget for NASA in 2018 that is about the same as the current year’s $19.3 billion allocation – not bad considering the president is proposing deep cuts in many non-Defense programs. EPA alone would see a 31% reduction.

But Trump’s vision for NASA calls for some dramatic shifts from the priorities the space agency pursued under President Obama, according to a broad budget outline the White House released Thursday. Line-item details on the administration’s proposed spending plan for NASA and other executive branch agencies are expected in the coming weeks.

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The boost to the Defense Department would come at the expense of discretionary spending for most other government agencies, a trade-off already meeting resistance from Democrats in Congress, reported Bloomber (US).
Under Trump’s request, the Pentagon would receive $574 billion for its regular budget, an increase of 10 percent increase, or $52.3 billion, over fiscal 2016, the last time Congress enacted a full-year budget. Separately, the Pentagon would get $65 billion in war-fighting funds, a $6.4 billion boost from the 2016 level.

Complicating the political future for Trump’s budget request is its pairing with a proposal to increase defense by $30 billion in fiscal 2017, the current year. For that, the White House is proposing about $18 billion in offsetting cuts to domestic programs, reductions unpalatable for Senate Democrats who have the ability to block it.

The Navy set a goal of 305 ships under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Ashton Carter, Obama’s defense secretary, warned about "irresponsibly" exceeding that goal at the risk of sacrificing quality for quantity. But in December, after the election, the Navy echoed Trump in a new assessment, saying it needed as many as 355 ships.

Trump also promised this month that he’ll provide the “12-carrier Navy we need.” There are 10 carriers in service today.

Additional surface ships and submarines would benefit the nation’s top warship makers -- Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. and the marine unit of General Dynamics Corp.

Additionally, increases in the Army and Marine Corps would benefit military vehicle builders General Dynamics and BAE Systems Plc, as well as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co., makers of air defense and anti-armor systems such as Thaad, Patriot and the Javelin.

The budget outline also hints at an increase in Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which at an estimated $379 billion is the most expensive in the Pentagon’s history. Trump has begun championing the F-35 after initially criticizing its price tag and then taking credit for progress in Pentagon negotiations that were already under way to reduce its cost.

“Key investments in maintenance capacity, training systems and additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighters would enable the Air Force, which is now the smallest it has been in history, to counter the growing number of complex threats,” the White House said in its summary.

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