President Trump Sends FY2018 Budget Request to Congress

Published On: May 30, 2017By Categories: Newsline

President Donald Trump released “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” the title of the FY2018 presidential budget request, on May 23. The budget request builds on the so-called “skinny budget” released in March that outlined major cuts to federal agencies at the expense of increased military and homeland security spending.

The FY2018 budget totals $4.1 trillion and anticipates balancing the budget over 10 years. The budget also assumes Congress will repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and enact comprehensive tax reform.
Despite the number of cuts across federal agencies, the budget is roughly similar in size to previous years because it would use the savings from cuts to enable a $54 billion increase in defense spending.
In addition to program specifics, the budget also laid out the Trump administration’s priorities, as budget figures and policy details were based on many of his campaign promises. The budget aims to return the federal agencies to their “core missions” by proposing cuts to programs that the administration argues state and local governments, as well as the private sector, can be responsible for.
For NGWA members, the budget proposes cuts — in many cases, severe cuts — to programs that protect groundwater as a natural resource, train the next generation of groundwater professionals, and support rural communities seeking groundwater as a drinking water source. NGWA plans to submit a response to Congress on the president’s budget request.
Key highlights from agency budgets 
Department of Agriculture 
The Department of Agriculture budget request proposes cuts of 21 percent.
Within the USDA, rural development programs are hit particularly hard. The Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program, which funds drinking water projects in rural areas, was completely eliminated, arguing the program is duplicative of the state revolving funds. Several other programs supporting rural business and economic development were also eliminated.
Cuts to agricultural programs could also lead to impacts for NGWA members.
Department of Energy 
Within the Department of Energy, the budget proposes a funding level of $28 billion, a cut of 6 percent over FY2016.
While the cut seems fairly reasonable in comparison to other agencies, it is important to note nuclear programs within the DOE were largely untouched, saddling other programs at the DOE with the majority of cuts.
Thus, programs within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy are cut by nearly 70 percent. Included within this is a 74 percent cut to programs supporting EERE’s geothermal program, among other renewable technologies. The Building Technologies Program, which supported geothermal heat pump usage, is proposed to receive a 66 percent cut.
Department of Interior 
The White House proposed cutting the Department of Interior by 12 percent, reducing funding to roughly $11.6 billion.
Within the budget request, the administration suggests eliminating the program to clean up abandoned mine lands. Grants to develop water recycling and water reuse are significantly reduced in the budget.
Within the DOI, the U.S. Geological Survey’s groundwater-related programs were hit hard in the proposal. The Groundwater Model Development, Maintenance and Sustainability Program, which supports MODFLOW and GSFLOW, is eliminated in the budget request. In addition, the National Ground-Water Monitoring Network faces funding cuts of $1.7 million, and several regional aquifer studies are being eliminated.
Environmental Protection Agency 
The Environmental Protection Agency faced some of the stiffest proposed cuts of all federal agencies. The budget suggests cuts of more than 30 percent to the agency over FY2016 levels and suggests funding of $5.65 billion for FY2018. The funding level proposed is the lowest in more than 40 years.
Nearly all programs faced cuts in the budget. However, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund were kept at FY2016 levels. In addition, the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act, which funds managed aquifer recharge projects among others, is budgeted to receive $20 billion, doubling its current level.
The Superfund program is facing a 25 percent cut, despite being noted as a priority of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and brownfields fare even worse, facing cuts of more​ than 30 percent. The Underground Storage Tank Program and Lead Risk Reduction Program are eliminated in the budget request, noting states could undertake these activities without federal aid.
National Science Foundation 
The National Science Foundation is proposed at a level of $6.6 billion, a cut of just over 11 percent.
While the cuts to NSF are steep, they are distributed fairly evenly across all six directorates. The Geosciences Directorate has been targeted in the past because of the misconception it only focuses on climate research — so level funding across the directorate is a vote of confidence for the work being done in the geosciences.
Reception on Capitol Hill 
The president’s budget request was met with a tepid response by both parties and both chambers.
While objection from Democrats was expected, the response from high-ranking Republicans was similar in tone. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, called the budget dead on arrival, and former House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) referred to the cuts in the budget as “draconian.”
House and Senate leaders also used the president’s request as an opportunity to reinforce the important constitutional role Congress has as the “power of the purse.”

What comes next 

The federal government is currently funded through September 30, 2017. In order to continue funding the government once the new fiscal year begins on October 1, Congress will undertake the following actions:
  • Congress will hold a series of budget hearings featuring testimony from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on the president’s FY2018 budget request.
  • House and Senate budget committees will draft a budget resolution that sets the level of funding across 19 spending categories. While the president’s budget figures are taken into consideration, there is no requirement that House and Senate budget resolutions resemble the president’s budget request, and the budget resolution does not go to the president’s desk for signature.
  • Budget resolutions are not required, and in recent years Congress has struggled to pass a budget resolution due to difficulties reconciling differences between House and Senate versions. When a resolution is not passed, House and Senate will adopt separate budget targets they deem acceptable as a substitute.
  • With broad spending figures in place, House and Senate Appropriations committees set out to draft and pass annual appropriations bills that fund discretionary spending at each federal agency. The president must sign into law each appropriations bill.
  • If Congress fails to pass all 12 appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year, a continuing resolution is passed to continue funding the government at existing levels for a defined period of time. If a continuing resolution is not passed, a government shutdown takes place.

Given the hyperpoliticized environment in Washington, it is unlikely the budget and appropriations will unfold neatly as outlined above. As Congress appears unwilling to consider much of the president’s budget request, Trump could be incentivized to veto appropriations bills that do not adhere to the cuts he has requested. He previously tweeted that Congress might need a “good shutdown” in September.

 As Congress begins the process of crafting annual appropriations bills, NGWA will work with its Government Affairs Committee to prepare a response in support of, or in opposition to, program requests in the president’s budget.
This response will be circulated to House and Senate Appropriations committees’ staffs, as well as other key allies in Congress — to reinforce the important role many of these federal programs play in managing, protecting, and sustaining groundwater as a resource.​​​

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