WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is proposing a huge $54 billion surge in U.S. military spending for new aircraft, ships and fighters in his first federal budget while slashing big chunks from domestic programs and foreign aid to make the government “do more with less.”
The Trump blueprint, due in more detail next month, would fulfill the Republican president’s campaign pledge to boost Pentagon spending while targeting the budgets of other federal agencies. The “topline” figures emerged Monday, one day before Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress, an opportunity to re-emphasize the economic issues that were a centerpiece of his White House run.
Domestic programs and foreign aid would as a whole absorb a 10 percent, $54 billion cut from currently projected levels — cuts that would match the military increase. The cuts would be felt far more deeply by programs and agencies targeted by Trump and his fellow Republicans, like the Environmental Protection Agency as well as foreign aid. Veterans’ programs would be exempted, as would border security, additional law enforcement functions and some other areas.
“We’re going to start spending on infrastructure big. It’s not like we have a choice — our highways, our bridges are unsafe, our tunnels,” the president told a group of governors at the White House on Monday. He added, “We’re going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people.”
However, Trump’s final version of the budget is sure to leave large deficits intact — or even add to them if he follows through on his campaign promise for a huge tax cut.
His plan faces strong opposition from Democrats, who possess the power to block it. The immediate reaction from Republicans was mixed, with prominent defense hawks like Sen. John McCain of Arizona saying it would do too little to help the Pentagon and fiscal conservatives and supporters of domestic agencies expressing caution.
The White House indicated that the foreign aid cuts would be particularly large.
Asked about those plans, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would say only, “We’ll see how it works out.” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., declined to comment when approached in a Capitol hallway.
A congressional showdown is inevitable later this year, and a government shutdown a real possibility.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the spike in Pentagon spending would bring the total defense budget to a record $603 billion — and that’s before including tens of billions of dollars for overseas military operations.
The United States already spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined, but military leaders have complained repeatedly that aircraft are aging. Congress was told recently that the average age of Air Force aircraft is 27 years, and more than half of the service’s inventory would qualify for antique vehicle license plates in Virginia.
“It is a true America first budget. It will show the president is keeping his promises and will do exactly what he said he was going to do,” Mulvaney said. “It prioritizes rebuilding our military, including restoring our nuclear capabilities, protecting the nation and securing the border, enforcing the laws currently on the books, taking care of vets and increasing school choice.”
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York said, “It is clear from this budget blueprint that President Trump fully intends to break his promises to working families by taking a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle class.” He declared, “A cut this steep almost certainly means cuts to agencies that protect consumers from Wall Street excess and protect clean air and water.”
Mulvaney said the plan wouldn’t add to the budget deficit — currently projected to hit about $500 billion next year — but it wouldn’t reduce it, either. The administration again made clear that the government’s largest benefit programs, Social Security and Medicare, would be exempt from cuts when Trump’s full budget submission is released in May.
McCain said Trump’s Pentagon plans would fall short by almost $40 billion and represent just a small increase over former President Barack Obama’s recent Pentagon wish list.
“With a world on fire, America cannot secure peace through strength with just 3 percent more than President Obama’s budget,” said McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
On Monday, tentative proposals for the 2018 budget year that begins Oct. 1 were being sent to federal agencies, which will have a chance to propose changes.
Before the new budget year, there’s an April 28 deadline to finish up spending bills for the current 2017 budget year, which is almost half over, and any stumble or protracted battle could risk a government shutdown then as well.
There’s expected to be an immediate infusion of 2017 cash for the Pentagon of $20 billion or more, and also the first wave of funding for Trump’s promised border wall and other initiatives like hiring immigration agents.
The president previewed a boost in military spending during a speech Friday to conservative activists, pledging “one of the greatest buildups in American history.”