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CQ Roll Call: Trump Budget Cuts Slammed as Harmful to Small-Town America

Mar 20, 2017
By Ryan McCrimmon

(Originally published March 17, 2017)

House Democrats on Friday slammed President Donald Trump’s budget outline as devastating to small-town and rural Americans, pledging to fight the deep spending cuts the White House is seeking.

At a news conference, Democrats from districts or states won by Trump in November warned that his fiscal 2018 discretionary spending plan released Thursday would strip vital resources from their constituents by slashing programs like heating assistance for low-income Americans and food aid for the elderly.

“This is just another example of ripping off Americans,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, a member of the House Democratic leadership. “The people that we represent, and all of rural America, and frankly all Americans, deserve better than what Donald Trump presented this week.”

Bustos, whose northwestern Illinois district is heavy on farmland, bashed the 21 percent budget cut Trump recommended for the Department of Agriculture, relative to current spending levels.

“He’s making a deliberate choice to damage our agricultural economy and making it harder for our growers and our producers to sell their crops,” Bustos said.

She warned against Trump’s suggested $95 million cut in the USDA's Rural Business and Cooperative Service, which supports business development and job training in rural areas. Bustos said the program creates or saves 20,000 rural jobs every year.

She also panned the proposal to eliminate funding for transportation programs like the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes airline service to some rural airports, and the water and wastewater loan and grant program.

Rep. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said the spending proposal was a bad sign that it will be difficult to reach any consensus with the White House on policies affecting rural America, including future work on a new farm bill.

“From my talking to Republicans, they mostly are just kind of ignoring this, and they’re trying to run away from it in other cases, so I’m not sure this budget is going any place,” Peterson said. “But it worries me what they’re going to come with and push in the budget, as it relates to the farm bill and what we’re going to end up with there — if we’re going to get the Heritage Foundation writing that.”

Many of the deep cuts to domestic agencies in Trump’s spending plan mirror those that have been proposed in budget blueprints from conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation.

The reductions, $54 billion in total, are intended by the Trump administration to offset a corresponding increase in defense spending for fiscal 2018.

“A budget that puts America first must make the safety of our people its No. 1 priority — because without safety, there can be no prosperity,” Trump wrote in his budget message.

Republican Objections

But even key Republicans have pushed back on the more drastic cuts Trump wants.

Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, a senior GOP appropriator, called many of the budget cuts “draconian, careless and counterproductive.” Rogers, the former chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he was not on board with the White House plan to eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Economic Development Administration, which are “vital economic lifelines in rural parts of the country” like his hardscrabble Kentucky coal district.

Another Kentucky lawmaker, Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth, noted that the budget “seems to have gratuitously made more enemies than it’s possible to make.”

Yarmuth, ranking member on the Budget Committee, said that many of the proposed cuts were dead on arrival due to Republican opposition. It’s up to Congress to put annual spending plans into law through the appropriations process.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress and liberal groups off the Hill have seized on that message that the budget blueprint is a betrayal of the voters who launched Trump into the White House.

“I decided the best word to describe this budget is ignorant,” Yarmuth said. “What it does is exhibit an incredible lack of knowledge about the way people live, and about the value and success of many of the investments and programs that this budget would cut.”

Yarmuth said he recently spoke to more than 30 mayors who were concerned about cuts to Community Development Block Grants, which support popular programs like Meals on Wheels food delivery to isolated seniors, among other local efforts. Trump called for eliminating the $3 billion program.

Another proposed elimination that has drawn heavy scrutiny is that of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps poor and elderly Americans pay their energy bills.

“LIHEAP keeps people from freezing to death,” Yarmuth said. “It’s incredibly important in my district and in most other districts.”

Trump is expected to release a full budget proposal in May that would include mandatory spending, revenue and economic projections.