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Trump lays out budget plans to boost defence, cut foreign aid, EPA

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the National Governors Association meeting at the White House in Washington, on Feb. 27, 2017.

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

U.S. President Donald Trump said he plans to increase military spending while cutting foreign aid and environmental regulations in the first outline of his administration's fiscal priorities.

Mr. Trump unveiled his budget proposals Monday, a day before he addresses a joint session of Congress. The speech is expected to lay out his plans to build infrastructure, replace Obamacare and reform the country's tax system.

Mr. Trump is already on a collision course with some fellow Republicans, who are not keen on the President's promised massive infrastructure spending and favour a swift repeal of the Affordable Care Act without guaranteeing people can keep their insurance plans, as Mr. Trump has pledged they could.

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The address is a crucial opportunity for the President to get his own party on the same page in the face of Democratic opposition that could use filibusters to block his proposed military build-up and environmental cuts.

Mr. Trump offered the first taste of his legislative plan Monday with a blueprint for bolstering defence spending.

"This budget will be a public-safety and national-security budget," he told a gathering of state governors at the White House. "We have to win. We have to start winning wars again."

His plan would mean defence clocks in at $603-billion, $54-billion more than a current legislated cap. Non-defence discretionary spending would be cut by the same amount, falling to $462-billion.

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The White House indicated that foreign aid would be on the chopping block. Foreign aid currently accounts for $42.4-billion in spending, or about 1 per cent of the United States' annual budget.

"[The budget plan] reduces money to other nations, eliminates duplicative programs and eliminates programs that just don't work," Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Monday.

Reuters, citing unnamed officials familiar with Mr. Trump's budget plans, said the Environmental Protection Agency will also be in the administration's sights. Mr. Trump hinted at this in his speech to the governors, telling them he would cut environmental regulations.

Mr. Trump's budget outline will be circulated within government departments for the next 2 1/2 weeks, where officials will be asked to come up with specific proposals on what to cut. A final version will be submitted to Congress on March 16.

The spending plan unveiled Monday includes only discretionary spending and not spending determined by other legislation, such as funding for Medicare and Social Security. All of that will not come down until May, when Mr. Mulvaney said the White House expects to present a full budget.

Mr. Trump's speech to Congress Tuesday evening will be another chance to lay out pieces of his agenda. He told the governors Monday to expect a "big statement tomorrow night on infrastructure." A list of talking points obtained by Politico indicated the address will also include promises to scrap Obamacare and change the tax system.

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Unlike in Canada's parliamentary system, where a governing party with a legislative majority can be expected to present and pass a budget within a matter of weeks, the U.S. system often sees protracted battles between presidents and Congress to get spending plans through.

"What's important here is how much domestic policy and budget policy is the role of Congress – he needs Congress to go along with this," said Laura Blessing, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Government Affairs Institute.

Senate Democrats, for instance, could filibuster Mr. Trump's foreign-aid cuts because the Republicans lack the 60-seat supermajority needed to shut down such a move. Republicans, meanwhile, have seemed lukewarm to Mr. Trump's big-spending infrastructure plan, which would pour anywhere from $137-billion to $1-trillion into repairing and upgrading the country's highways, bridges and tunnels.

Mr. Trump's foreign-aid cuts could also run up against opposition from the military itself. On Monday, a group of 121 retired generals and admirals pleaded with Congress to properly fund development and diplomacy programs, arguing that such projects are "critical to keeping America safe."

"The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism – lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness," reads the letter, sent to the congressional leaders of both the GOP and the Democrats, and signed by top former military commanders such as George Casey, David Petraeus and Keith Alexander.

Repealing Obamacare will be equally tough. Mr. Trump has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act while ensuring no one loses health insurance and the cost becomes lower, but has not yet explained how he will do this. Some Republican members of Congress, meanwhile, are agitating for a swift repeal without first figuring out a replacement system.

"He has not really offered a whole lot of details. He's made some pretty difficult promises," said Ms. Blessing, a former legislative assistant to a Democratic congressman. "It's hard to figure out where he is [on Obamacare] other than that he wants something done quickly. Keeping the promises Trump has made are not things that match up with what's being discussed right now."

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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