You really think Congress is going to go along with the White House’s big spending cuts to state and local programs? With an election year looming and governors warning of dire consequences?
“Members of Congress are not going to go home and defend Meals on Wheels cuts,” said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University who’s a scholar of the federal government. “Members of Congress do not want to cut popular programs.”
Nor do the nation’s governors. Thirty-seven seats are up for re-election this year and next, and Republicans currently control 27. Austerity is usually not a useful strategy to peddle in tight races.
As a result, Washington is seeing a familiar pattern: Governors and local officials issue scary scenarios about the horrific impact of spending cuts. They hold somber conferences in and out of town and launch a slew of lobbyists to Capitol Hill to argue against the reductions.
The ritual ends almost the same way every time: States get most of the federal money they need, if not more.
President Donald Trump’s program-slashing $4.1 trillion budget, like those of his predecessors, isn’t going to happen, said former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges, because presidential budgets are rarely successful wish lists.
Instead, they are conversation starters for Congress, which ultimately decides how much the country spends and on what, he said.
“This budget will go in the trash can because the revenue scenarios are too rosy and the math doesn’t add up,” said Hodges, a Democrat who served from 1999 to 2003 and currently heads a Washington-based lobbying firm. “And that’s before you get to the policy prescriptions, which will unite Democrats and Republicans against it.”
Trump seeks to increase military spending by 10 percent and carve out $1.6 billion in funding to start construction of a wall on the border with Mexico. He’s calling for huge cuts in key domestic and foreign programs to help pay for his priorities.
But he’s already encountering the same resistance his predecessors did when they tried to slash programs that are popular with lawmakers and their constituents.
Former President Barack Obama’s final budget proposal, for example, called for cutting the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Development Block Grant, a program that provides communities with funding to address needs ranging from housing to infrastructure, to $2.8 billion from $3 billion.
Trump wants to eliminate the popular program altogether. His budget claims that the program “is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.”
Congress ignored Obama’s proposal and preserved Community Development Block Grant funding at $3 billion.
“These CDBG grants are irreplaceable in terms of helping small cities meet their infrastructure needs,” said Michael Wallace, program director for federal advocacy for the National League of Cities. “The president’s budget won’t get enacted, but it will influence the process. This is a budget that would cut out city leaders as decision-makers in any of these federal programs. And that’s a shot across the bow, I think, at cities right now.”
State and local officials are leaving nothing to chance. They began their offensive even before budget details were formally unveiled last week. They maintain that even though the budget won’t get far, that doesn’t mean Congress won’t pluck a recommended cut or two and approve it.
“The cuts would be significant if Congress didn’t restore them,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “It’s not a system that we’ve created. It’s necessary for us to get in fights to restore the funding.”
They’re likely to find partners on Capitol Hill, as Trump’s budget has been panned by Democrats and several Republicans for its steep cuts in entitlement programs such as Medicaid, which provides health care to the poor and others, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Trump’s projection of 3 percent economic growth annually has also been scorned by members of both parties.
There are enough deep cuts in Trump’s budget affecting enough congressional lawmakers’ favorite programs or causes that “it’s just a nonstarter,” according to NYU’s Light.
Indeed, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in both parties have already begun picking Trump’s plan apart, even while in some instances praising it for its cost-cutting zeal.
Republican Rep. Mark Sanford, like fellow South Carolinian Hodges, ripped the proposal for its growth projection. Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both Republicans, railed against Trump’s plan to cut crop insurance by $28.5 billion over 10 years.
Freshman Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, lauded Budget Director Mick Mulvaney at a House Budget Committee hearing last week for crafting a budget that will balance in a decade but added, “Recognizing there are cuts to be made everywhere, why now, and why such deep cuts in our farm-sector safety net?”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Mulvaney at a Senate Budget Committee hearing last week that he wouldn’t vote for Trump’s budget because of its proposed 32 percent cut – roughly $19 billion – in U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid spending.
It’s all a familiar script.
“No president, no governor, gets their budget enacted entirely,” Hodges said.