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Getting Skinny

Thursday March 16th, 2017   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:37am PDT   •  

12072500 - tighten belt on dollar concept Before he became president, Donald Trump perhaps made his biggest impression on Americans in his role on the reality TV game show The Apprentice. Today, with the release of the president’s so-called “skinny” budget, he looks to be in the starring role for a government-version of The Biggest Loser.

Reuters reports on President Trump’s initial position in the political negotiations over the future of the U.S. government’s spending.

President Donald Trump will ask the U.S. Congress for dramatic cuts to many federal programs as he seeks to bulk up defense spending, start building a wall on the border with Mexico and spend more money deporting illegal immigrants.

In a federal budget proposal with many losers, the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department stand out as targets for the biggest spending reductions. Funding would disappear altogether for 19 independent bodies that count on federal money for public broadcasting, the arts and regional issues from Alaska to Appalachia.

Trump’s budget outline is a bare-bones plan covering just “discretionary” spending for the 2018 fiscal year starting on Oct. 1. It is the first volley in what is expected to be an intense battle over spending in coming months in Congress, which holds the federal purse strings and seldom approves presidents’ budget plans.

Congress, controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, may reject some or many of his proposed cuts. Some of the proposed changes, which Democrats will broadly oppose, have been targeted for decades by conservative Republicans.

For a graphic on winners and losers in Trump’s budget, click here.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from President Trump’s skinny budget is that the proposed spending cuts would be balanced by increased spending elsewhere in the discretionary portion of the federal budget, with no change on the size of the annual budget deficit. As such, the purpose of the budget proposal is not to reduce federal spending so much as it is to change priorities for federal spending.

The Hill reports that the skinny budget has been declared to be “dead on arrival” by at least one Republican senator, two days before it was officially rolled out.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that President Trump’s first budget was “dead on arrival” and wouldn’t make it through Congress.

“It’s not going to happen,” said Graham, according to NBC News. “It would be a disaster.”

Graham, a frequent Trump critic, expressed concerns with Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department budget, especially the targeting of foreign aid.

In a separate report, Reuters indicates that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has a different view.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday the State Department’s current spending was “not sustainable,” and he willingly accepted the “challenge” President Donald Trump had given in proposing to cut more than a quarter of his agency’s budget.

Trump’s budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1 would cut 28 percent of the budget for U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid, according to documents provided by the White House. The combined budget for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) would be $25.6 billion.

Speaking in Tokyo at the start of a trip to Asia focused on the threat from North Korea, Tillerson defended the cuts as a necessary correction to a “historically high” budget that had grown to address conflicts abroad in which the United States was engaged, as well as disaster aid.

“Clearly the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking, particularly in this past year, is simply not sustainable,” he said. “As time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in.”

The debate about the U.S. government’s budget is really about priorities. How should the U.S. government allocate its limited resources? Resources that have become more limited because of the earlier, wasteful choices made by politicians and their bureaucratic appointees, many of whom are no longer in office?

The argument over the State Department’s spending is just one small glimpse of what is really at stake for the American people, in what may just be the beginning of the first serious negotiations over the nation’s spending priorities in decades.

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March 2017