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White House releases budget, forecasts a decade of mounting debt

By Christi Parsons • Updated Feb 12, 2018 at 2:02 PM

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration proposed a spending plan on Monday that projects deficits as far as the eye can see, giving up the longtime Republican goal of a balanced budget to champion a spending plan replete with cash for a host of military programs and some domestic ones the president’s supporters might admire.

The budget calls for about $716 billion in annual defense spending, more than $100 billion above the level Trump requested last year. Add in the tax cut Republicans pushed through in December and the extra spending Congress approved just last week, and the result is a flood of red ink projected to send the national debt ever higher.

Trump’s budget anticipates deficits throughout the next 10 years even if Congress were to approve some $3 trillion in cuts over that same time period that he’s proposing for a wide range of federal programs. Both parties already rejected most of those cuts last year and have shown little interest in pursuing them.

The deficits persist even though the White House is forecasting extremely optimistic levels of economic growth. If growth falls short of those projections — most economists think it will — deficits would be higher still.

As a result, the budget marks something of a milestone — the Trump administration’s abandonment of the quest for budget balance that the Republican Party has claimed as a guiding light for years, at least rhetorically.

In reality, deficits have often soared under Republican presidents as the party has put cutting taxes ahead of balancing budgets on its list of priorities. In the past, however, Republican administrations have taken pains to at least come up with a budget that would balance on paper.

The budget unveiling led off with the administration’s infrastructure plan, released with a statement from the president promising to build gleaming new roads, bridges and highways “all across our land.”

Despite the bold promise, the plan involves a relatively small amount of new federal spending — $200 billion offset, at least partially, by cuts to other programs. The administration claims the new money would spur some $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments from state, local and private sources, but that would depend to a large degree on the willingness of local and state officials to raise taxes for transportation projects.

“Washington no longer will be a roadblock to progress,” Trump told a group of state and local officials gathered at the White House.

The budget includes new money to fight the opioid epidemic, bolster medical care for veterans and build a wall on the southwest border.

The budget proposes paying for increases in the military budget with $65 billion in reductions from the non-defense discretionary caps under current law.

Among its many proposed reductions are changes to Medicaid for the poor and elimination of climate change research and other programs at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The president’s infrastructure proposal is a good starting point for discussion and I’m hopeful both parties will work together on this issue,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said. “By rebuilding our aging infrastructure and improving job training programs targeted toward in-demand infrastructure-related jobs, we have a great opportunity to further strengthen our economy. I am also glad to see the administration is making infrastructure permitting reform a priority.

“I’ve led efforts in the Senate to streamline our permitting process, working to enact FAST-41 so we can rebuild our infrastructure more quickly. With a permitting process that makes sense and operates efficiently, we can put more people back to work, improve our infrastructure, and better protect the environment. I look forward to working with the administration and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to develop legislation on these issues in the coming months.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) released a statement urging Trump to work with Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to address the nation’s infrastructure needs, rather than passing the cost on to drivers, cities and communities through tax hikes and tolls.

Trump’s infrastructure proposal out relies on “leveraging” dollars that states and local communities do not have without raising taxes significantly, and would require tolling to attract private investment, Brown said.

“I’m ready to work with President Trump to make good on his promise to rebuild American infrastructure. But we accounting gimmicks don’t build bridges,” Brown said. “We know Ohio communities and workers are already strapped for cash, and we can’t simply pass the cost of this infrastructure investment onto drivers, cities and counties through tolls and local tax hikes.”

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Drastic cuts for State Department in White House budget

By Tracy Wilkinson - Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Ignoring warnings from diplomats and even a powerful GOP-controlled Senate committee, the Trump administration went ahead Monday with drastic cuts to the State Department and USAID, the two most important arms of American diplomacy.

The budget unveiled by the White House allots $39.3 billion for the department of about 24,000 foreign and civil service employees and the U.S. Agency for International Development — down from about $55 billion last year.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had embraced the cuts when the White House first proposed them, and was met with steep criticism from the foreign policy establishment and numerous members of Congress. The Senate Appropriations Committee last fall said the reductions “serve only to weaken America’s standing in the world.”

Tillerson has insisted he is not “hollowing out” the State Department — which has lost scores of diplomats through attrition, resignations and dismissals — but making it more efficient.

“This budget focuses resources on national security at home and abroad, on economic development that contributes to the growth of our economy, and on renewed efforts to modernize the operations of both the State Department and USAID for greater effectiveness,” Tillerson, who is traveling in the Middle East, said in a statement released in Washington.

The cuts will likely jeopardize environmental, health and educational projects, as well as so-called democracy-building programs at grass-roots levels, experts said.

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White House doubles down on its goal of Obamacare repeal in new budget proposal

By Noam N. Levey - Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Even as prospects for a new Republican push to roll back the Affordable Care Act remain dim, the White House is doubling down on the repeal effort, calling for massive cuts to health care assistance in its 2019 budget.

The budget blueprint — which lays out a host of Trump administration health care proposals —outlines nearly $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade to Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor.

And it would slash almost $700 billion in federal health care spending that helps low- and moderate-income Americans who rely on insurance marketplaces created by the 2010 health care law, often called Obamacare.

The administration said the sweeping changes reflect a goal to “empower patients and doctors to make decisions about their health care while reducing burdensome regulations and building a patient-centered system of care.”

But cuts of this magnitude — which parallel repeal legislation pushed unsuccessfully by GOP congressional leaders last year — would likely leave tens of millions of more Americans without health coverage, independent analyses have indicated.

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©2018 Los Angeles Times

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