GOP Lawmakers Get Skittish Over Trump Budget Cuts
Nervous Republicans quick to fold over media, Democrat claims of 'hard-hearted' cuts
President Donald Trump released his highly anticipated first budget on Thursday, prompting Democratic critics to accuse his administration of cutting what they consider vital programs and services.
It was the most conservative budget ever proposed by a president, said Chris Stirewalt, political editor of Fox News.
“I understand anyone’s cynicism because they haven’t seen this before. We’ve never seen anyone this conservative,” said Grover Norquist.
Conservative groups such as the Tea Party Patriots praised the budget. Club for Growth, a grassroots conservative group, said the Trump administration’s budget blueprint could end federally funded TV and radio.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said Trump’s budget answers an unknown question: Is Trump truly a fiscal conservative? Norquist told LifeZette that Trump now appears to be more Reagan than Reagan.
Thus, the reaction from Democrats and the media was predictably over the top.
“This president does not value the future of our children and working families,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“Let them eat fighter jets,” read the top headline of The Huffington Post. The left-wing publication said the budget targets the poor and seniors.
At Thursday’s briefing, CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, if the budget was too “hard-hearted.”
But the budget provoked a surprisingly negative reaction from conservative Republicans.
"While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president's skinny budget are draconian, careless, and counterproductive," said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a former chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Rogers went on to bash the proposed cuts to the Appalachian Regional Commission and to foreign aid.
"As Gen. Mattis said prophetically, slashing the diplomatic efforts will cause them to have to buy more ammunition," said Rogers.
Rogers said cuts to the State Department "would not stand."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered tepid support for the president's agenda.
"I'm pleased to see an increased focus on our national security and veterans' budgets," McConnell said in a statement. "These are positive steps in the right direction. I look forward to reviewing this and the full budget when it is released later this spring."
Mulvaney said many programs within the State Department's budget are redundant or wasteful, justifying the need for such a high-dollar cut.
"It just so happens that much of the foreign aid that the president talked about in [the] campaign, much of the money that goes to climate research, green energy, those types of things — are actually in the State Department budget," said Mulvaney. "If those line items had been in the Department of Commerce, you would see Department of Commerce having gone down by a similarly large percentage."
It has some moderate Republican lawmakers scared. They are even defending the National Endowment for the Arts from Trump's budget cuts. The NEA, which has once funded pornographic art, has long been a GOP target for complete elimination.
"Cutting the Coast Guard, programs through the Department of Justice and revenue-builders like the NEA are penny wise but pound foolish," said Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.).
Calling the budget "mean, not lean" is an old tactic used by the media and Democrats to frighten skittish Republicans into opposing cuts, Norquist said.
Bashing budgets cuts was a tactic used against President Reagan to scare congressional Republicans away from his tax cuts and his first budget. The GOP never controlled the House under Reagan.
That tactic was even more harshly used against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), when the Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress in 1994 after a 40-year drought. Republicans slowed spending down and passed major reforms, but could not get everything they wanted from President Bill Clinton.
Current House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was accused of wanting to push Granny off a cliff by liberal groups who opposed his entitlement reform.
But Roger and Lance's criticisms show a fear of having to deliver taxpayers the long-awaited balanced budget — and with it, serious reduction in the national debt, which now stands at $19.9 trillion.
It's a familiar retreat. When controlling all three branches of government, Republicans have failed to deliver on their promises before.
Much of the national debt was accrued under President George W. Bush, who governed with a Republican Congress in 2001 and from 2003 to 2007. Despite GOP power those years, spending did not substantially slow. Bush left office with about double the bills — $10.6 trillion in debt.
"I understand anyone's cynicism because they haven't seen this before," said Norquist. "Partly because conservatives are habituated to 'don't get too excited' ... We've never seen anyone this conservative."