Senate leadership went for broke on Trump budget
The White House’s new 2019 budget once again calls for eliminating the federal program that subsidizes part of the costs that state and local governments incur by jailing illegal immigrants they arrest.
President Trump proposed cutting the money last year, but to no avail. The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which is extremely popular with a number of important lawmakers on Capitol Hill, is still up and running at a cost of $210 million a year.
Mr. Trump came into office last year promising to bring a businessman’s approach to the federal budget, proposing $54 billion in cuts. In the end, he won less than $5 billion, said Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director.
That was far below the 60 percent mark President Obama scored on his spending cuts list in his first year in office, according to a 2010 Washington Times analysis, and it left the White House gun-shy this time.
Gone were another round of Defense Department base closings, plans to cut the Commerce Department’s $26 million minority business agency, and massive cuts to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
Instead, the NIH got a massive increase in the budget that Mr. Trump sent to Congress on Monday.
Mr. Mulvaney, a former congressman, said his old colleagues sent him a clear message by trashing last year’s budget.
“Not only did Congress not like our proposed NIH cuts last year, they made them illegal this year,” he said. “They prevented us by law from trying to save money. So I learned my lesson.”
That lesson, watchdog groups said, is that Congress measures success in dollars, and preferred programs are going to get more cash even if it doesn’t always translate into better service.
Mr. Trump now joins the list of presidents who have discovered how tough it is to cut the budget.
“Year after year, administration after administration, the cut list comes and goes with each budget. The list is substantively the same,” said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Because there is some entrenched special interest lining up to fight for each of these programs, it is not enough to just throw them in this volume and expect they will go away. The Trump administration — like those before it — has to fight for the smart cuts or they are not going to happen.”
While the White House says it still has the stomach for cuts, its appetite is decidedly curbed.
The president’s $54 billion list of proposed spending cuts in 2017 was whittled to less than $26 billion in the latest budget.
Among the proposed cuts are a space telescope program and college tuition assistance grants for students from the District of Columbia. That program spends $40 million a year to pay for D.C. residents to attend public colleges at in-state tuition rates, since they don’t have those options in their home city.
The Trump administration said the city’s finances are strong enough that it should use its own money to offer the assistance.
Although the new budget forgoes NIH and National Science Foundation cuts, some 79 other discretionary spending programs proposed for elimination in last year’s budget are back on the cutting board.
Among them are the criminal aliens program, transportation law enforcement grants, the Legal Services Corp., the NASA Office of Education, a series of Education Department grants and the Energy Department’s advanced research division.
Each of those programs will have powerful backers lobbying to protect them as critical parts of the budget.
Take one Education Department program known as 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The Clinton-era after-school program got $1.2 billion in 2017 and was just reauthorized by Congress as part of the broad education overhaul in 2015.
The Trump administration says after-school programs are valuable but that this one doesn’t live up to expectations. Less than 20 percent of participants’ reading and math testing scores moved from not proficient to proficient, and less than half of them had improved grades, the administration says.
Education groups quickly rallied to defend the spending. Mark Shriver, senior vice president at Save the Children, insisted that the program can boost child achievement and said the proposed cuts showed “poor children across the country are not being prioritized.”
“These kids and families across the country deserve this continued investment,” he said.
While presidents often struggle to persuade Congress to cut spending, Mr. Obama did well on that scorecard during his first year in office. With Democrats in control of Congress, he won 60 percent of his original list of spending cuts, according to a Washington Times calculation at the time.
But that success didn’t last.
Mr. Obama lost control of the cutting process once Republicans gained control of the House and forced a deal to impose spending caps, which fostered near across-the-board cuts, forcing agencies to make the reductions on their own.
Indeed, in his second term Mr. Obama stopped even releasing a budget volume proposing any program cuts.
Mr. Trump revived the budget volume last year.
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
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