Icy reception to Trump budget from fellow Republicans

Erica Werner
Associated Press

Washington — President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal got an icy reception on Capitol Hill Tuesday, and that was just from the Republicans.

Longtime GOP Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky declared proposed cuts to safety net and environmental proposals “draconian.”

“I don’t think the president’s budget is going anywhere,” said Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, asked if he’s concerned about the message sent by slashing the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.

GOP Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina questioned the rosy economic projections that allow the budget to balance over a decade even without touching Social Security or Medicare.

“Part of what’s going on here is supposedly you can put these different pieces of the puzzle together in a way that you don’t touch entitlements, but the reality is you can’t,” Sanford said. “So it creates a lie that we all then either address or don’t address, but it makes for a make-believe debate that I find frustrating.”

GOP Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, a senior lawmaker, said border security is important, but questioned the need for $1.6 billion to be spent on Trump’s border wall.

“I thought Mexico was going to pay for the wall, why is this in our budget?” Upton remarked, only partly joking. He went on to say he was concerned about billions being cut from medical research, and elimination of a Great Lakes cleanup fund supported by lawmakers of both parties.

“But you know it’s only a proposal, it never gets to his desk,” Upton added.

Every presidential budget is merely an administration’s statement of priorities, and there is never any expectation it will survive Congress intact. Even so, the GOP backlash to Trump’s budget was striking, as few lawmakers apart from the top leaders in the House and Senate seemed inclined to give the president much deference. That could have something to do with Trump’s low approval ratings and the scandal over potential Russia collusion that has beset his young administration.

Several GOP lawmakers also complained that the administration made little or no effort to consult with them before putting forward a roster of cuts that Congress would clearly find unacceptable. These include slashing agriculture spending for crop insurance and food stamps; a cut of more than 30 percent for the State Department; as well as billions in cuts to an array of other domestic programs from Superfund cleanup spending to student loans.

“You would hope that they would want to ask the folks who know the most about it,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, adding he and his staff were not consulted.

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who chairs the Agriculture Committee in the Senate, said cuts to crop-insurance were a no-go.

“We’ve had a freeze, we’ve had a prairie fire, we’ve had another freeze, we’ve lost 40 percent of our wheat crop and you’re telling me there’s going to be large cuts to crop insurance? Come on. That doesn’t add up,” Roberts said.

Asked what Trump was thinking, Roberts replied: “I don’t know. He’s right now in Israel. I have no idea what he’s thinking right now. Not that I would if he were here either.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought to put a positive face on the proposal. McConnell praised the budget for prioritizing defense, veterans’ issues and economic growth.

“Here’s what I’m happy about,” Ryan said. “We finally have a president who’s willing to actually balance the budget. The last president never proposed let alone tried to balance the budget.” Ryan sidestepped a question on whether the economic assumptions that allow the balance to budget were realistic, but praised the administration for embracing the goal of economic growth.

Earlier, in a closed-door meeting with House GOP lawmakers, Ryan cautioned members against falling into the “trap” of criticizing the budget, arguing that there was plenty to like, according to lawmakers and aides present.