Why Trump's budget may be 'devastating' to his supporters

Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky said his poor, rural district – which voted 80 percent in favor of Trump – would be hit harder than anywhere else in the country.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky, seen here with reporters on Feb. 28, 2017, before President Trump's speech to the nation, is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. He said Mr. Trump's proposed budget cuts would be "devastating" for his district.

President Trump’s “skinny” budget proposal would make deep cuts in many government programs in the name of pruning the federal bureaucracy. But in doing so it might disproportionately (and surprisingly) affect a particular demographic sector of America: Trump voters.

"It's unacceptable,” says Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky, whose district voted about 80 percent in favor of Trump. "The president’s biggest support came from the rural and poor areas like mine.... And that area is going to be hit harder than anywhere else in the country quite frankly."

That’s due to the plan's focus on non-defense, discretionary spending – everything Uncle Sam does outside the Pentagon and mammoth entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

It includes many programs that are important to rural, lower-income areas that went big for Trump last November, such as subsidies for regional airports, funds to clean up the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, and support for regional economic development.

It’s possible these proposed reductions wouldn’t hurt Trump much in his political heartland. Many of his voters view the president not as appropriator-in-chief, but as an agent of change who’ll bring heartache to Washington’s powers that be, whatever the consequences.

It’s also possible the cuts would hurt Trump. At the least, they’ve already driven a wedge between the White House and many Republican members of Congress. These lawmakers often get the credit or blame for federal efforts in their districts. While they support Trump’s aim to increase military spending while cutting elsewhere, their first loyalty is to constituents.

$69 billion in proposed cuts

Overall, the Trump budget proposal would cut funding for non-defense discretionary spending by $15 billion in fiscal 2017 (despite the fact that year has already begun) and by $54 billion in fiscal 2018. All of this money would be shifted to military spending.

Two departments outside the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, would get increases. All other non-defense discretionary programs would be cut by more than 15 percent of current levels on average, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Many of these areas have already borne significant cuts over the past seven years, due to the tight caps that the 2011 Budget Control Act placed on non-defense discretionary program funding,” writes CBPP director Robert Greenstein in a statement on the Trump budget.

At least 19 federal agencies would be zeroed out under the Trump budget. These include the Appalachian Regional Commission, founded to help promote development in an impoverished part of the US; the Delta Regional Authority, another economic development group; the US Trade and Development Agency, which promotes US exports; and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is a main means of support for rural public TV and radio stations.

Job training programs, worker safety efforts, and federal housing and energy assistance would also face deep cuts, according to CBPP.

'Devastating' to Trump voters

Representative Rogers, a former chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, represents one of the most impoverished regions in the nation – eastern Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia’s coal country. The Trump budget proposal would be “devastating” to his district, he says in an interview with the Monitor.

Funding for two key regional groups that recruit businesses and jobs and help retrain laid-off miners for other work would be zeroed out under the president’s budget. Those programs are making a difference he says.

Nor is the Kentucky lawmaker alone. Some other GOP members shared his reaction. Take Rep. John Moolenaar, a former Dow chemist who now represents a big swath of Michigan’s mitten.

Representative Moolenaar, a Republican, is unhappy about Trump’s proposal to eliminate almost all of the $300 million federal funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. He vows to fight to ensure that cut won’t happen. The lakes are a “national treasure” that hold 80 percent of the US supply of fresh surface water, he says.

“We need to fund that,” he says. He adds that other Appropriations Committee members agree with him.

These Republicans and others say they agree with Trump’s general thrust of increasing military preparedness while restraining domestic spending. But they take issue with these specific reductions.

Moolenaar feels that voters are more interested in Trump’s agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, and keeping jobs in America than they are in the specifics of the budget proposal.

Not that Trump’s budget will pass intact, or even largely intact. As these members point out, Congress controls the purse strings. Much will change before the House and Senate cast final budget votes.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balert (R) of Florida, who is a member of the House Appropriations committee, told reporters: "It's not the real thing," speaking of the president's budget. The budget process is lengthy, this appropriator points out.

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