CAPITOL HILL – Senator Chris Van Hollen came out strongly against the budget proposal unveiled by President Donald Trump, which features harsh cuts to many federal agencies.
In a press conference on Thursday, Van Hollen said the budget blueprint Trump submitted that describes how his administration intends to allocate discretionary spending represents a “betrayal” of Trump’s campaign promises and everyday Americans.
“The Trump budget is great if you can get on a plane every weekend and fly to Mar-a-Lago. But it stinks for everybody else,” Van Hollen said, referring to the president’s Florida resort. “It is directly aimed at hurting working families, and it will hurt people’s opportunities to get ahead and make it in America.”
The budget blueprint calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending offset by reductions in the budgets of other government departments and even the elimination of some programs altogether.
Trump, in a letter accompanying the budget blueprint, said the cuts “are sensible and rational.”
“Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people,” Trump wrote. “Our aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demand of our citizens – a government that puts the needs of its own people first. When we do that, we will set free the dreams of every American, and we will begin a new chapter of American greatness.”
But Van Hollen said he thought the budget instead left behind many Americans. Among the cuts Van Hollen mentioned as being especially harmful are the elimination of Community Development Block Grants, which fund community-based projects throughout the country; federal funding for Meals on Wheels, which provides food to low-income seniors; the Senior Community Service Employment program to help seniors find work, and the Economic Development Agency. In Maryland, the loss of federal dollars to the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program could devastate this state’s tourism industry, as well as the livelihoods of watermen and others.
Other of Trump’s cuts, such as funding for AMTRAK in rural areas, rural economic development program cuts, and cuts to rural water and wastewater treatment infrastructure programs, will disproportionately affect rural residents who strongly supported Trump, Van Hollen said.
“If you look at the areas where Donald Trump did especially well, they get especially hard-hit in this budget,” Van Hollen said. “I think this is going to be a wake-up call for a lot of people who supported Donald Trump that his budget is betraying them.”
Trump’s budget document claims the water and wastewater treatment infrastructure projects would be supported through private investment or the Environmental Protection Agency.
One of the departments facing the biggest cuts is the state department, with a 28 percent reduction. Van Hollen said its work on diplomacy is vital to American interests.
“The State department and what they do helps reduce the likelihood of war. It helps reduce the likelihood conflict and therefore ultimately helps save lives and save dollars,” he said.
Van Hollen also pointed out that in addition to a cut of 14 percent, the budget blueprint calls for a shifting of funds within the Department of Education from public schools to voucher programs which allow students to attend private schools.
“We’ve had a tradition of making sure that we have funding to support our public school system, and now you see a diversion of funds- public funds, taxpayer funds- to private schools,” he said.
Van Hollen did say he is supportive of the budget increases for homeland security and the FBI. And while he supports having a strong military, Van Hollen said he believes the problems with waste in the Defense Department should be corrected before more money is allocated, and that those investments shouldn’t come at a cost to other priorities.
“All of us recognize we need to invest in a strong, robust military to protect our nation’s national security, but we also need to invest in economic opportunity and economic growth if we really want to be a strong country as we advance into the 21st century,” he said.
Trump’s budget blueprint is only one part of the overall federal budget. It does not include plans for the bulk of federal spending, which is considered mandatory spending, nor does it explain the new administration’s tax proposals.
The Senate and House will have the opportunity to look over the budget and potentially amend it before passage. Van Hollen said he believed Republicans would be open to restoring some of the cuts.
“I have to believe that my Republican colleagues, they are going to look at this budget and see that it dramatically disinvests in their states,” he said.
Even if Republicans don’t, Van Hollen said he and his fellow Democrats would do what they could.
“We’re going to work very hard to make sure that this budget is not the budget that ultimately emerges from both the House and the Senate,” Van Hollen said.