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Does Trump’s budget defend America or erode American power? Lawmakers weigh in

March 16, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
From strong support to condemnation, President Trump’s new budget proposal has garnered an array of reactions on Capitol Hill. Judy Woodruff gets two views from Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., who both sit on congressional budget committees.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Reaction from lawmakers to President Trump’s America first budget ranged from strong support to tough criticism.

We have two different points of view of the president’s budget proposal.

First up, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He’s a member of the Budget and Appropriations Committees.

And I started by asking for his overall reaction.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-Md.: Well, this budget tells me that Donald Trump is already getting very out of touch with the American people.

It’s the kind of budget you might expect from somebody who jets off to Mar-a-Lago every other week. And, by the way, that costs taxpayers $3 million each time, which is the amount usually in the budget for the Meals on Wheels program to help feed over two million elderly.

He wipes that out of the budget. And if you look at the overall budget, it really is an attack on working people and on educational opportunity in the country.

It is a recipe for cleaner — dirtier air and contaminated water. It’s really a bad deal for the American public.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president tweeted, Senator, you probably know, that this is a budget that puts America first. It’s a budget that makes safety the prime consideration.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, actually, it makes America last in terms of investing in our people, investing in our economy, investing in our national infrastructure, something that candidate Trump talked a whole lot about, yet they cut the infrastructure budget here by over 13 percent.

So, a lot of what he talked about on the campaign trail is actually under attack in this budget, including, I have to say, important economic development programs and infrastructure programs for rural America.

He does dramatically increase Pentagon spending, but he cuts the funding for the State Department. And the State Department funding is designed to help keep us out of wars and to save lives and money. And that’s what Secretary Mattis, his own defense secretary, has had to say.

So, this doesn’t help America. In fact, it really erodes American influence around the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what they’re saying is the Pentagon budget, the defense spending in this country has been cut back so much that the United States is vulnerable, and that this is a critical moment for the United States to restore the spending for defense that should have been there for the last number of years.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, actually, that’s just another alternative fact coming out of this administration.

We have had robust defense spending. I can support additional investment in our national security, but we just saw a few months ago reports out of the Pentagon about over $120 billion in wasteful spending.

In fact, Donald Trump has talked about these huge cost overruns on Pentagon projects. So we’d be much better off managing those resources better, than simply writing a new check to the Pentagon, which, by the way, is the one federal government agency that has not been able to pass an audit.

So, look, I’m all for investing on our national security. We have to do it, but we also have to recognize our national strength includes making sure our kids get a good education. And he cut the Department of Education by close to 15 percent. It includes making sure we have a healthy population. And he dramatically cut funding for medical research to help develop cures and treatments.

So, this is really something that’s going to hurt most of the country. You know, the folks at the very top who just got a big tax cut as part of the Trumpcare plan aren’t going to be hurt, but everybody else is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, again, I’m sure you know, but what the — I just heard the budget director making this argument today.

He was pressed on some of these cuts, for example, in education. He said the administration has looked very closely at so many of these domestic spending programs, and he says where there is no evidence that people are actually being helped, these programs cannot continue.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, we certainly shouldn’t be asking taxpayers to invest in programs that don’t help.

But the reality is that the after-school programs to try to make sure that kids are in a productive environment after school hours and not out on the streets, that actually is an important program. It’s been underfunded in the United States.

There are other career and training programs that have shown good results, and they’re cutting them. The same is true with respect to some of our manufacturing programs. I mean, here’s a president who says he wants to restore American manufacturing, and yet he cuts the manufacturing extension program, which helps take innovations and make sure that they’re available to industry throughout the United States.

So, this is a very short-sighted budget. I have to say that Donald Trump said he was going to be there for the forgotten people. In this budget, he forgets those people. I mean, they’re not even an afterthought.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Chris Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, we thank you, sir.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And for an opposing view, we turn now to Representative Todd Rokita. He’s a Republican from Indiana and he is vice chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Congressman Rokita, welcome to the NewsHour.

I think you just heard at least part of what Senator Van Hollen said, and that is, in this budget proposal, the president is forgetting some of the very people he said he wanted to be elected to help.

REP. TODD ROKITA, R-Ind.: Yes, I heard that. And Chris is a friend from the House Budget Committee. He was ranking member when I was vice chairman there last Congress.

And, you know, I heard some of the same rhetoric. He’s a good man, but let me just say this. The president, with the budget that he put forward today, recognizing that it’s his request, it’s not the budget — we still have our Article I powers under the Constitution, and we will use them, as congress men and women, to reconcile different priorities and make sure that we’re continue to march forward for the American people.

But I would say that the forgotten man that President Trump campaigned for should be proud of what was done in the budget. First of all, the one thing, Judy, that the federal government does constitutionally and does well is our national defense.

And I will quibble with Mr. Van Hollen if he says that our national defense has been taken care of. It only makes up about 20 percent of our budget historically, but it took 50 percent of the sequester cuts. So, fair is fair. And we’re getting back to rebalancing that.

Otherwise, Judy, this is a traditional — as you would see in a economic textbook of some kind, traditional guns vs. butter argument. And for eight years or so, we have been doling out a lot of butter, a lot of domestic programs.

And what Mr. Trump is suggesting here is that we rebalance and put a little bit more into our guns to make sure that we’re protected from a military standpoint, that we’re safe, and…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me just interrupt you there, if you don’t mind.

REP. TODD ROKITA: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because I want to ask you about that.

We did hear Senator Van Hollen say, yes, it’s good to spend more on defense, but he said there are problems with defense spending, that it hasn’t — he said we haven’t even seen a serious audit.

But I do want to ask you about some of the domestic cuts, education down 15 percent, medical research, major cut, a 20-some percent cut in the environment, 21 percent.

How — what are these cuts? What is going to be cut?

REP. TODD ROKITA: Well, I have been in a budget hearing all day repealing and replacing Obamacare. So, you know, I don’t have all the details, and I didn’t write the document.

Like I said, we are going to digest that all in the Budget Committee. But let me just, from an overview perspective, say that what I’m seeing so far is that what is being — quote, unquote — “cut” are really duplicative programs and programs that shouldn’t be in the agencies that they’re in.

And we see this throughout government, 10, 20, 30 programs that pretend to do the same thing, but don’t do it well. And so that’s what I see Mr. Trump and Mick Mulvaney, the OMB director, doing here, is really streamlining government.

And he’s also making good on other campaign promises. I’m the kindergarten through 12th grade education chairman in the House, subcommittee education chairman. And what we’re seeing here is Mr. Trump making good on school choice, the idea that the property of parents, the tax dollars, are actually following the child more to a school that fits them, not being shackled to a school that doesn’t work for them.

And that’s an important point. And that’s not new money. That’s reprogrammed money. So, it’s money being reprioritized. And that’s exactly, Judy, what a budget is about, and that’s what he’s doing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So the cuts in medical research, for example — and I didn’t mention cuts in agriculture.

We heard Senator Van Hollen speak about extension programs in agriculture. You’re comfortable with all the cuts the administration is proposing?

REP. TODD ROKITA: Well, like I say, I haven’t looked at the whole document. I have been in an eight-or-so-hour markup on repealing and replacing Obamacare, but we will look at all that.

And what I’m saying that I’m comfortable with is getting rid of the duplication, getting rid of programs that are outside the agency’s jurisdiction. I’m for streamlining. I’m for the president keeping good on his promises to the forgotten man and all the rest of us.

And that’s what I’m seeing in the budget so far. And then, again, also, Judy, I will say that we will go through the budget process. The budget — the president’s budget is just a budget request. The real budget is going to come through the House Budget Committee. It’s going to come through Chris’ committee.

And it doesn’t even have to be signed by the president. It goes into effect without his signature. So, that’s our Article I powers. And you can be assured that we’re going to look at every item, because that’s our job and we will do it no matter who the president is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s a reminder of the way the process really works.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Todd Rokita of Indiana, vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, we thank you.

REP. TODD ROKITA: Thank you, Judy.

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