Trump’s budget opens a new fight among Republicans

© Reuters. Trump‘s budget opens a new fight among Republicans

By Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican US Rep. Todd Rokita keeps a clock hanging on the wall of his Capitol office that tracks mounting US government debt in real time and reminds him of his top priority: controlling spending. federal.

“They sent me here with a fiscal note,” said the Indiana legislator and vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, who rode a Republican wave during his first congressional election in 2010.

When President Donald Trump releases his budget for fiscal 2018 on Thursday, Rokita will be among many conservative Republicans who applaud proposed cuts to national programs that would pay for a military increase.

More moderate Republicans are less enthusiastic and fear that Trump’s budget could force lawmakers to choose between opposing the president or backing cuts in popular programs like help for disabled children and hot meals for the elderly.

“What I would hope is that the administration is aware of the difficulty of some of these things,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

The release of Trump’s budget, which comes as the Republican president faces a revolt within the party over proposed legislation to replace Obamacare’s health care law, could open another fight between Republicans who control both houses of Congress. To keep the government running, lawmakers will need to pass a spending plan later this year.

The White House has released few details about Trump’s budget, other than making clear that the president wants to increase military spending by $ 54 billion and is seeking equivalent cuts in discretionary non-defense programs.

But various agencies, including the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, have been asked to prepare scenarios for steep cuts, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

While supporting deficit reduction efforts, Cole said a major research university in his district could be hit by cuts from the National Institutes of Health, as could EPA-funded wastewater treatment facilities.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman, whose home state of Ohio is on the south shore of Lake Erie, expressed concern over media reports saying that Trump’s budget had targeted sharp cuts in a cleanup program for the Great Lakes.

NOT ENOUGH AUSTERE

While Rokita, who was among a group of Republican lawmakers who met with Trump last week, seemed comfortable with what he had learned so far about Trump’s budget, some Republican members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus said they wanted to see even more. budget cuts.

Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama said that legislators’ protest over the expected cuts underscored that the plan would be a “big step in the right direction” to control debt.

Brooks added: “My fear is that Trump’s budget is not austere enough to minimize America’s risk of suffering the kind of debilitating insolvency and bankruptcy that is destroying the lives of Venezuelans right now.”

Venezuela, a member of OPEC, is immersed in a deep economic crisis, with triple-digit inflation, shortages of basic products and many people starving.

Brooks and other members of the Freedom Caucus are among the staunchest critics of White House-backed legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, former Democratic President Barack Obama‘s signature health plan known as Obamacare.

To try to lure conservative lawmakers onto Trump’s legislative agenda, budget director Mick Mulvaney, himself a former member of the House Freedom Caucus, invited them to a night of bowling and pizza at the White House Tuesday night.

Another member of the Freedom Caucus, Representative David Schweikert of Arizona, said Mulvaney was encouraging lawmakers to bring nonconformist tax ideas to the White House.

Schweikert said he hoped to revive a proposal from a few years ago, amid a fight to raise America’s debt limit, that would have allowed the government to take a series of alternative, if controversial, steps, such as paying some creditors up front. of others.

‘CUT AND BURN’

A top Republican aide, who referred to Trump’s budget as a “slash and burn” proposal, said one of the fears of some House lawmakers was that they would be pressured to endorse big spending cuts only to have them by the Senate. reject slimmer majority. The risk for members of the House is that their votes will provoke a backlash in the 2018 congressional elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said a budget that cuts State Department funding by a third is unlikely to pass in his chamber.

Other high-ranking Republicans are sounding the alarms.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, after lunch at the White House Tuesday with Trump, said: “What I told you is that when we find ourselves in a deadlock between the House and the Senate, different factions of the party … the guy who needs to go down and close the deal. “

Cole said Congress would finally have the final say on the budget.

“At the end of the day, we will have a budget. We will approve the budget, ”he said. “Our budget is not necessarily the president’s budget.”