Trump budget hit list contains programs long in GOP sights

WASHINGTON — The White House budget office has drafted a hit list of programs that President Donald Trump could eliminate to trim domestic spending, including long-standing conservative targets like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corp., AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.

Work on the first Trump administration budget has been delayed as the budget office awaited Senate confirmation of former Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a spending hard-liner, as budget director. Now that he is in place, his office is ready to move ahead with a list of nine programs to eliminate, an opening salvo in the Trump administration's effort to reorder the government and increase spending on defense and infrastructure.

Most of the programs cost less than $500 million annually, a pittance for a government that is projected to spend about $4 trillion this year. And a few are surprising, even though most if not all have been perennial targets for conservatives.

Trump has spoken volubly about the nation's drug problems, yet the list includes the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, which dispenses grants to reduce drug use and drug trafficking. And despite Trump's vocal promotion of U.S. exports, the list also includes the Export-Import Bank, which has guaranteed loans to foreign customers of U.S. companies since the 1930s.

While the total amount of annual savings of roughly $2.5 billion would be comparatively small, administration officials want to highlight the agencies in their upcoming budget proposal as examples of misuse of taxpayer dollars. An internal memo circulated within the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, and obtained by The New York Times, notes that the list could change. Proposals for more extensive cuts in Cabinet-level agencies are expected to follow.

[Trump family's elaborate lifestyle, a 'logistical nightmare,' comes at unusual cost to taxpayers]

During his campaign, Trump promised large but unspecified cuts to rein in the deficit, even as he promised to protect programs for his working-class voters and to drastically expand spending on the military, roads, bridges and airports. While the memo in no way resolves that contradiction, it suggests that he could lean toward a small-government philosophy that conservatives like Mulvaney have fiercely advocated.


The Office of Management and Budget is operating with a skeleton staff; Mulvaney was confirmed Thursday. Still, officials there plan to ask agencies targeted for elimination for their responses by next Friday and to finalize the list by March 13, according to a person familiar with the process.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed cuts. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said this month that the administration would release a detailed budget in the next few weeks. Since taking office, Trump has spoken about government spending only in general terms.

"A balanced budget is fine," Trump said in an interview with Fox News last month. "But sometimes you have to fuel the well in order to really get the economy going."

He added: "I want a balanced budget eventually. But I want to have a strong military."

The president's hope to increase military spending, shared by many Republicans, will likely be at the center of the looming budget battle in Congress. Funding for the current fiscal year is set to expire April 28. The administration is expected to make a supplemental request before then for money to go to the military — and possibly a wall on the Mexican border.

But under the Budget Control Act of 2011, spending on defense and domestic programs is capped. Democrats will demand that any lifting of those caps for the military be matched by a higher ceiling for domestic programs, setting the stage for a legislative logjam or a showdown over whether to preserve the parliamentary stalling tactic known as the Senate filibuster.

Steve Bell, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee who is now with the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the programs identified in the memo are standard targets for Republican budget-cutters but of little significance in the government's financial picture.

"It's sad in a way because those programs aren't causing the deficit," Bell said. "These programs don't amount to a hill of beans."

[Trump calls the media 'the enemy of the American People']

One surprise for some close watchers of Trump's presidential campaign is the inclusion of the Export-Import Bank on the OMB's list. Other Republican candidates had promised to eliminate the bank, a favorite target of House conservatives like Mulvaney. Conservatives, led by the billionaire Koch brothers, have run a multimillion-dollar campaign to kill the bank, which guarantees loans for overseas customers of U.S. corporations, by decrying it as "crony capitalism."

But Trump was more circumspect during the campaign, saying he favored programs to promote U.S. exports. The biggest recipient of the bank's assistance — and its biggest booster — is aerospace giant Boeing, which Trump visited Friday and lavishly praised.

But the president has stacked his White House with budget hawks. Stephen Miller, one of Trump's most senior advisers, was a top aide to now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who spent much of his Senate career trying to rein in government spending.

To serve as director of budget policy and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, Trump chose Paul Winfree, an economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation. In its own proposed budget blueprint, the Heritage Foundation recommended eliminating virtually the same programs listed in the Office of Management and Budget memo, along with a long list of others.

Many of those programs have been attacked by conservatives since the Republican "revolution" of 1994. Led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, the House of Representatives at the time repeatedly went after funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whose supporters dragged Big Bird and Kermit the Frog to Capitol Hill to make their case.

The Appalachian Regional Commission, a Depression-era independent agency aimed at developing some of the poorest parts of the country, has also been a target.

These agencies have managed to survive partly because of powerful patrons in the Senate, including the late Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. Even now, with 48 seats in the Senate, Democrats have considerable leverage to save popular programs.

Backers of the National Endowment for the Arts are likely to put up a particularly vigorous fight.


"The public wants to see agencies like the NEA continue," said Robert L. Lynch, head of Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization. "There is always a debate, but there has been agreement among Republicans and Democrats that funding for the arts is a good thing, and it has been kept in place."

[Republican leaders outline plan to replace Affordable Care Act]

Other agencies on the budget office's list of cuts include the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which finances programs run by AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps. The memo also proposed reducing funding for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp., a nonprofit organization focused on urban development.


Stephen Moore, another Heritage Foundation economist who advised Trump during his campaign, acknowledged that powerful constituencies were behind many of the programs that are on the chopping block. But he said now that Republicans are finally in control of the government, they must make a valiant effort to fulfill the promises they have been making to voters for years.

"I think it's an important endeavor to try to get rid of things that are unnecessary," Moore said. "The American public has a lot of contempt for how government is run in Washington, in no small part because there is so much waste."

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.