Donald Trump will seek a $54bn hike in military spending while cutting foreign aid, environmental programmes and domestic agencies by the same amount, the White House
said on Monday.
The aggressive emphasis on defence firepower at the expense of diplomacy and development was swiftly condemned by a group of more than 120 retired US generals and admirals.
In a statement at the White House, Trump said: “This budget will be a public safety and national security budget. It will include an historic increase in defence spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America
at a time we most need it.”
Trump said his budget would put “America first” – a phrase that originated with Nazi sympathizers who sought to keep the US out of the second world war – by focusing on defense, law enforcement and veterans, diverting money previously spent overseas. “We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” he said. “We can do so much more with the money we spend.”
The president’s request must ultimately be decided by Congress and is likely to face fierce resistance from Democrats and some Republicans. Senate Democrats were swift to condemn it on Monday and could use a filibuster to try to force a government shutdown.
The US already spends around $600bn a year on defence, more than the next eight countries combined. But in a speech to conservative activists on Friday, Trump promised “one of the greatest military build-ups in American history”.
On Monday, in a conference call with reporters, two administration officials familiar with Trump’s proposal said the planned defence spending increase would be financed partly by “dollar-for-dollar cuts” to the Department of State, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other non-defence programmes.
Trump’s request for the Pentagon included more money for shipbuilding, military aircraft and establishing “a more robust presence in key international waterways and chokepoints” such as the Strait of Hormuz and South China
Sea, one of the officials said. There will also be increases for the homeland security, intelligence and the Department of Justice.
A second official said the state department’s budget could be cut by as much as 30%, which would force a major restructuring and the elimination of some programmes. The US currently spends about $50bn annually on the state department and foreign assistance.
Trump’s military budget closely matches the $640bn sought in a white paper by John McCain, chairman of the Senate armed services committee.
James Carafano, of the thinktank Heritage Foundation, said: “We don’t have the defense we need to protect America’s vital interests. The president’s budget is a down payment on fixing this problem.”
But more than 120 retired US generals and admirals – including George Casey, former chief of staff of the US army, and David Petraeus, former CIA director and commander of troops in Iraq
– sent a letter to Congress, urging it fully fund US diplomacy and foreign aid.
“Elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe,” they said. “We know from our service in uniform that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone.”
Domestic agencies will also feel the pinch, with the EPA apparently a likely target. On Saturday its new administrator, Scott Pruitt, told conservative activists that climate change and water pollution regulations would be rolled back and they would be “justified” in believing the environmental regulator should be completely disbanded.
Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, said last week that one of key priorities of the White House was the “deconstruction of the administrative state”.
Democrats argue such moves will cut middle-class programmes to make way for huge tax cut for the wealthy.
Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, said: “It is clear from this budget blueprint that President Trump fully intends to break his promises to working families by taking a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle-class.
“A cut this steep almost certainly means cuts to agencies that protect consumers from Wall Street excess and protect clean air and water.
“Most Americans didn’t vote to ease up on polluters, or to give Wall Street the green light to rip them off. They certainly didn’t vote to make all these cuts so that President Trump can hand out a tax break to the wealthiest Americans.”
Schumer added: “This budget proposal is a reflection of exactly who this president is and what today’s Republican party believes in: helping the wealthy and special interests while putting further burdens on the middle class and those struggling to get there.”
The White House was sending Trump’s proposal to federal departments on Monday as he prepared for budget haggling with Congress that often takes months. The White House will leave so-called “entitlements” such as social security and Medicare untouched for now, according to an administration official. The treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, trailed such plans on Fox News on Sunday.
Budget officials on the call spoke on condition of anonymity and ignored requests to put the briefing on the record, even though Trump last week bemoaned the use of anonymous sources by the media.
Trump said he would talk about his plans for infrastructure spending in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. “We’re going to start spending on infrastructure big,” he said. With tax cuts also in the pipeline, it is unclear how he would plan to cut the national debt.
Trump held meetings with state governors and health insurance company executives at the White House on Monday. “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” he said, about plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.”
As reporters were being led out of the room, one asked if a special prosecutor should investigate Trump’s ties with Russia. He did not respond immediately, but could then be heard saying: “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.”