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Trump’s plan to increase military spending by cutting EPA and State: what we know

President Donald Trump Meets With Economic Advisors
 U.S. President Donald Trump discusses the federal budget in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on February 22, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

The Trump administration is working on a budget proposal to boost military spending by roughly 10 percent, or $54 billion, in fiscal year 2018 — while pursuing deep, offsetting cuts to a variety of other federal agencies, particularly the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Right now this proposal is only the first step in a long, complex budget process. The White House will send a broad budget outline to federal agencies on Monday and ask for feedback on which programs to cut. The Trump administration will then finalize a formal budget request to Congress by May. But ultimately, it will be up to Congress to set spending levels for the government.

There are still lots of questions about what specific cuts Trump will pursue — and whether those cuts can get through the Senate. Here’s what we know (and what we don’t) so far:

What we know

  • The Trump administration is proposing a $54 billion increase in defense spending for fiscal year 2018 (which starts on October 1, 2017), an official with the Office of Management and Budget told reporters this morning.
  • That increase will be offset by $54 billion in cuts to a variety of other domestic spending programs, including deep cuts at the EPA and State, according to the New York Times. “Social safety net programs,” the Times notes, “would also be hit hard.”
  • Medicare and Social Security will be spared from cuts, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said last week.
  • The White House will send top-line budget numbers to all the federal agencies on Monday along with recommendations for programs to cut. The agencies can then offer feedback. Here’s how OMB Director Mick Mulvaney described the process: “Each agency will get its number, along with recommendations from OMB as to how we think they can hit that number. And then they come back to us and say ‘Yeah, that’s a good way for us to hit that number,’ or they come back to us with other suggestions.”
  • By March 16, the White House will publish a formal “budget blueprint.” By May, they’ll finalize a detailed budget request and send it to Congress.
  • Spending levels will ultimately need to be approved by the House and Senate. In order to approve Trump’s desired increase in military outlays, Congress would need to lift the cap on defense spending that was part of sequestration in the 2013 budget deal. That would require 60 votes in the Senate — including approval from at least eight Democrats — as long as the filibuster exists.
  • To put this all in perspective, here’s what the federal budget looked like in FY 2016 (after Congress passed a bill to exceed the sequestration caps). Total defense spending was $584 billion. Total domestic discretionary spending — the part Trump wants to cut — was $600 billion. Social Security and Medicare combined make up about $1.4 trillion:
(Congressional Budget Office)

What we don’t know

  • We don’t know what specific cuts Trump is proposing — or how different agencies would be affected. OMB is sending out top-line spending levels for each agency today, and will negotiate specific cuts over the next few weeks. Administration officials told Axios that the proposed cuts to EPA would be “massive,” hitting climate-change programs particularly hard. But the EPA’s total budget is only $8 billion (and State’s is $38 billion), so the White House would have to cut elsewhere as well to get to $54 billion.
  • What the baseline for the $54 billion increase in defense spending is. (If it’s against the sequestration baseline, then total defense spending in FY 2018 would be roughly $603 billion and non-defense discretionary would fall to $462 billion.)
  • Where the extra defense spending would go, specifically. According to a report in the Hill last month, Trump wants to expand the Navy's fleet from 274 ships to 350, the largest build-up since the end of the Cold War. That could cost as much as $165 billion over the next 30 years solely for purchasing new ships, submarines, and other boats.
  • Whether the Pentagon specifically lobbied for more money. Its budget has largely flatlined in recent years because of congressional spending caps, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down so significantly that it's not clear the Defense Department actually needs as much money as it has, let alone tens of billions of dollars more.

Yochi Dreazen contributed to this report.

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