(Repeats with no change in text)
By Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, March 12 Republican U.S.
Representative Todd Rokita keeps a clock hanging on the wall of
his Capitol Hill office that tracks the U.S. government's rising
debt in real time and reminds him of his top priority: reining
in federal spending.
“I was sent here on a fiscal note,” said the Indiana
lawmaker and vice chairman of the House of Representatives
Budget Committee, who rode a Republican wave during his first
election to Congress in 2010.
When President Donald Trump unveils his budget for the 2018
fiscal year on Thursday, Rokita will be among many conservative
Republicans cheering proposed cuts to domestic programs that
would pay for a military buildup.
More moderate Republicans are less enthusiastic and worry
Trump's budget could force lawmakers to choose between opposing
the president or backing reductions in popular programs such as
aid for disabled children and hot meals for the elderly.
“What you would hope is that the administration is aware of
the difficulty of some of these things," said Representative Tom
Cole of Oklahoma.
The release of Trump’s budget, which comes as the Republican
president is facing an intraparty revolt over proposed
legislation to replace the Obamacare healthcare law, could open
another fight among Republicans who control both houses of
Congress. To keep the government running, lawmakers will need to
approve a spending plan later this year.
The White House has released few details about Trump's
budget, other than making clear the president wants to boost
military spending by $54 billion and is seeking equivalent cuts
in non-defense discretionary programs.
But several agencies, including the State Department and the
Environmental Protection Agency, have been asked to prepare
scenarios for steep reductions, according to officials familiar
with the discussions.
While supporting deficit-reduction efforts, Cole said a
major research university in his district could get hit by
National Institutes of Health cuts, as could sewage treatment
facilities funded by the EPA.
Republican Senator Rob Portman, whose home state of Ohio
sits on the southern shores of Lake Erie, expressed concern
about media reports saying the Trump budget had penciled in
sharp cuts in a cleanup program for the Great Lakes.
NOT AUSTERE ENOUGH
While Rokita, who was among a group of Republican lawmakers
who met with Trump last week, appeared comfortable with what he
had learned so far about Trump’s budget, some Republican members
of the conservative House Freedom Caucus said they wanted to see
even further budget cuts.
Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama said the outcry from
lawmakers over the expected cuts underscored to him that the
blueprint would be a “a very large step in the right direction”
of reining in the debt.
Brooks added: “My fear is that the Trump budget will not be
austere enough to minimize America’s risk of suffering the kind
of debilitating insolvency and bankruptcy that is destroying the
lives of Venezuelans right now.”
OPEC member Venezuela is immersed in a deep economic crisis,
with inflation in triple digits, shortages of basic goods, and
many people going hungry.
Brooks and other members of the Freedom Caucus are among the
most vocal critics of the legislation backed by the White House
to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, former Democratic
President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare plan, known as
To try to woo the conservative lawmakers on Trump's
legislative agenda, budget director Mick Mulvaney, himself a
former member of the House Freedom Caucus, has invited them to a
bowling and pizza night at the White House on Tuesday night.
Another Freedom Caucus member, Representative David
Schweikert of Arizona, said Mulvaney was encouraging lawmakers
to submit maverick fiscal ideas to the White House.
Schweikert said he hoped to revive a proposal from a few
years ago, in the midst of a fight over raising the U.S. debt
limit, that would have allowed the government to take a series
of alternative, albeit controversial steps, such as paying some
creditors ahead of others.
'SLASH AND BURN'
One senior Republican aide, who referred to Trump’s budget
as a “slash and burn” proposal, said one fear of some House
lawmakers was that they would be pressured to back big spending
cuts only to have them rejected by the Senate, where Republicans
hold a slimmer majority. The risk for House members is that
their votes could prompt a backlash in the 2018 congressional
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said a budget
that cuts State Department funds by one-third is unlikely to
pass in his chamber.
Other high-ranking Republicans are setting off alarms.
Senator Lindsey Graham, following a White House lunch on
Tuesday with Trump, said: "What I told him is that when we get
in a deadlock between the House and the Senate, different
factions of the party ... you're the guy who needs to come down
and close the deal."
Cole said Congress would ultimately have the final say on
“At the end of the day, we’ll have a budget. We’ll pass the
budget,” he said. “Our budget is not necessarily the president’s
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton; Editing by
Caren Bohan and Peter Cooney)