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Trump Again Proposes Slashing Foreign Aid In Budget

Feb 10, 2020
Originally published on February 10, 2020 6:57 pm

Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET

President Trump proposed $4.4 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade in his budget for fiscal year 2021 — a document that is expected to be quickly dismissed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

The proposal included slashing foreign aid by 21%. Budget chief Russell Vought said the White House wants to boost funding for the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation while cutting other types of foreign aid.

"Our view is that we have trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, and we have to take care of our deficits and those numbers need to get down," Vought said in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Trump has proposed massive cuts to aid in each of his budget proposals. Congress, which holds the power of the purse, has ignored those past requests.

"Democrats in Congress have opposed his previous budgets. We hope that changes. We probably need to have a national election before it does," Vought said.

The proposed foreign aid cuts immediately drew fire from retired Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011. "The more we cut the international affairs budget, the higher the risk for longer and deadlier military operations," Mullen said in a letter to congressional leaders.

The $4.875 trillion budget highlighted Trump's priorities on border security, tax cuts, space exploration and other policies he may pursue if he wins a second term in the November presidential election.

Veterans Affairs and NASA were the biggest winners, while the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers saw big declines. The largest declines were seen at the Commerce Department — that's because the 2020 census will have concluded, accounting for the drawdown in spending.

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Trump's political rivals are expected to scour the budget for details they can brandish on the campaign trail — particularly any signs that Trump wants to cut mandatory spending on safety net programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

Trump was asked in a CNBC interview last month whether cuts to "entitlements" would ever be considered. "At some point they will be. We have tremendous growth," Trump said. "And at the right time, we will take a look at that."

On Saturday, Trump said on Twitter that this was not the right time.

"We're not touching Medicare, we want to keep Medicare, we're not touching Social Security," Trump told governors at the White House on Monday. "We're not decreasing Medicaid but we're doing a lot of things that are very good including [addressing] waste and fraud," he said.

The White House and Congress negotiated a two-year spending deal last year that sets overall spending numbers for 2020 and 2021, another factor that will curb Trump's ambitions.

The budget envisions $135 billion in savings for prescription drugs in the Medicare program, Vought said, a signal that the White House hopes Congress can agree on a plan to lower drug prices. The House passed a bill in December, which the White House promptly rejected.

Trump has praised a plan proposed by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and the Senate Finance Committee. But so far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not endorsed it.

Budget hawks have long urged curbs on spending — particularly on the big-ticket entitlement programs — to address the debt and deficit. Trump promised to eliminate the U.S. debt in eight years when he was first elected.

But his budget comes as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated government spending outpaced revenues by about $900 billion in 2019 and said the deficit will balloon to more than $1 trillion each year beginning in 2022.

Trump's new budget proposal projects that the deficit can be trimmed by $4.6 trillion over a decade and sees a balanced budget possible in 15 years, Vought said.

That relies on the economy growing at 2.8% this year and 3% thereafter — growth that exceeds the outlook from the Federal Reserve, Congressional Budget Office and private forecasters. Actual GDP growth was 2.9% in 2018 and slowed to 2.3% in 2019.

NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley contributed to this story.

Correction: 2/09/20

An earlier version of this story said the deficit was estimated at about 0 million in 2019. It was 0 billion.

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