Are Pennsylvanian leaders enthusiastic about Donald Trump’s new budget?
The president released his first spending plan — “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” — Thursday, outlining $1.15 trillion in shifting priorities. That includes $30 billion in increases to the Department of Defense and $4.1 billion for the wall Trump campaigned on building and billing to Mexico.
“... I recommend that the Congress enact non-defense discretionary reductions of $18 billion in FY 2017, which would fully offset the amounts proposed for DHS and would offset half of the amounts proposed for DOD,” he wrote in the cover letter addressed to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
The plan was not well received by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. Casey has been vehemently opposed to some Trump moves, like picking Betsy DeVos for education secretary, but cautiously optimistic about others, like stepping away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“President Trump’s budget is a series of broken promises to the people of Pennsylvania. Instead of keeping his commitment to fight for the middle class and Pennsylvania communities who deserve a fair shot, President Trump is pursuing the agenda of far right Congressional Republicans,” Casey said.
Pennsylvania has recently tended to be a blue state when it comes to presidential elections, voting for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama before swinging to Trump in 2016. The Republican’s populist message played well in the large GOP swaths of rural Pennsylvania and brought in unexpected votes in areas expected to be firmly Democrat.
Casey critiqued the president’s plan for cutting infrastructure programs repairing locks and dams in the western part of the state, as well as cuts to the National Institutes of Health that could hit the southeast and elimination of after-school programs that would hurt Philadelphia. He pointed to cuts to Community Development Block Grants, Rural Water and Wastewater Loan Program and Essential Air Services.
“This budget is devastating for central Pennsylvania. Communities in central Pennsylvania depend upon the Community Development Block grant to fund job-creating economic development projects, yet those funds would be eliminated under this budget,” he said. “For those central Pennsylvanians who go to, work for or live near Penn State, these cuts will adversely impact education funding. President Trump said he would fight for central Pennsylvania but this budget turns its back on the entire region.”
His Republican counterpart in the Senate, Pat Toomey, focused on what the budget was increasing.
“President Trump’s budget blueprint proposes a significant increase in spending to strengthen national security, rebuild our neglected military and honor our commitment to veterans with additional resources for the (Veterans Administration),” he said.
“To pay for these changes, it proposes reductions to non-defense programs. After years of overspending, I am encouraged that the president has proposed actual spending cuts and has committed to maintaining the overall cap on discretionary spending,” Toomey said. “I look forward to carefully examining each of the proposed reductions in this budget proposal.”
In the House, U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard, was measured in his response.
“The Constitution grants Congress sole power of the purse,” he said. “As with any administration, a budget request is simply an outline of the executive’s prerogatives.”
Thompson acknowledged the president’s goals but also local need.
“The president ran on a platform of reducing the size and scope of the federal government, but I don’t believe that can be done by just reducing discretionary spending,” he said. “Rather, we must provide an environment for economic growth and tackle the true drivers of the debt and deficit. As the process gets underway, I will continue to advocate for those programs that benefit our community the most, while using common sense to eliminate unnecessary spending, waste and redundancy in the federal government.”
On the state level, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf called the proposed cuts “unacceptable.”
“Seniors receive food from Meals on Wheels efforts. Families across Pennsylvania get help paying for their heating bills through heating assistance. Workers rely on job training programs to help them get back on their feet. Students across Pennsylvania with disabilities get access to the education they need to succeed through federal funding,” he said. “Many communities will be harmed by indiscriminate cuts to housing programs, agriculture investments and efforts to keep our land and water safe.”
He asked the state’s congressional delegation to review the cuts carefully and “help stop them.”
Wolf and state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, are in the process of working through their third budget together in Harrisburg. The two butted heads in a 2015 battle that had the state working without a budget for months before coming to a resolution.
While the two sides still have their own priorities — Wolf’s focus is education and economic development, while Corman puts pension reform as most critical — Corman said in a meeting with the Centre Daily Times on Wednesday that he is “always hopeful” about the process, and decided not to run against Wolf in 2018.
He declined to make specific comments on the Trump budget Thursday, but did address possible economic costs to Pennsylvania from the president’s executive orders, which included possible cuts to departments such as Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education.
Corman said he liked the idea of giving states more autonomy but was not thrilled about the possibility of decisions that would amount to unfunded mandates on the states.