Capitol Hill will push back this week against sharp cuts to energy and environmental programs that the Trump administration will detail for the first time in its fiscal 2018 budget, which is due out tomorrow.
The White House released a budget outline in March that proposed slashing U.S. EPA by more than 30 percent, called for a more than 10 percent reduction at the Interior Department and made sharp cuts to Energy Department renewable energy research programs.
Agencies have speculated over the extent of the cuts for the past two months, but all the guessing will end with the line-by-line budget request being unveiled in the morning.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney will make the case for the cuts as part of the administration’s broader fiscal goals at hearings with the House and Senate Budget committees on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Mulvaney is set to argue that $54 billion in domestic spending reductions are needed next year to offset increases in defense spending and allow the budget to still balance over the next 10 years without reducing Social Security or Medicare.
Already, the idea was declared dead on arrival this spring when it was first proposed, but the coming round of budget and appropriations hearings will offer a more urgent forum for arguing against those cuts.
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the ranking member on the Budget Committee, will make the case for raising both defense and non-defense discretionary spending in fiscal 2018.
Under a 2011 budget law, fiscal 2018 defense spending would have to be capped at $549 billion and non-defense spending at $515 billion unless lawmakers opt to change the caps.
"Everyone including a lot of Republicans can see that the current caps are too low," said Yarmuth, who vowed to push for raising them when the panel marks up the House budget resolution, likely during the second week of June.
Yarmuth and other Democrats believe the Republicans could be forced to go along if they hope to get their budget passed and the 12 annual appropriations bills signed into law. They note the recent fiscal 2017 omnibus spending bill required Democratic votes to pass and called for a combination of defense and non-defense increases.
Budget Committee Republicans have been cautious about weighing in. House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) has said only the panel is "committed to reviewing how our agencies operate to better streamline programs and reduce overlap."
While both the House and Senate Budget committees will move nonbinding budget resolutions, appropriators, who write the actual spending bills, say many of the domestic cuts won’t make it into law.
Appropriations hearings on the fiscal 2018 budget begin in earnest this week.
"There is just some of this stuff in here that does not make sense," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. He said he was especially concerned with a move to cut all funding (about $300 million) for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as reductions in tribal programs.
Simpson also said he’s worried that DOE’s science programs would be "decimated" under the White House’s proposal. He said he does not believe the proposed $54 billion in cuts would have enough support to pass the House.
"Hell, I wouldn’t vote for most of them," said Simpson, who warned Congress might be headed toward a stopgap funding measure for all of fiscal 2018 if the administration does not back off its demands for those cuts.
Another senior House appropriator, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), said he expects the proposed EPA reductions to be revisited.
"We want a functioning EPA and want their decisions to be based on best practices and science. I don’t think anyone is here to kill the agency, we’re here to make it work better," he added.
The House and Senate Budget committees have scheduled hearings on the spending blueprint; so have several Appropriations subcommittees:
Schedule: The House Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the fiscal 2018 budget on Wednesday, May 24, at 9:30 a.m. in 1334 Longworth
Witness: OMB Director Mick Mulvaney.
Schedule: The Senate Budget Committee will hold hearing on the fiscal 2018 budget on Thursday, May 25, at 9:45 a.m. in 608 Dirksen.
Schedule: The House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Justice Department’s budget on Thursday, May 25, at 1:30 p.m. in 2359 Rayburn.
Witness: Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Schedule: The House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Agriculture Department budget is Wednesday, May 24, at 10 a.m. in 2362-A Rayburn.
Witnesses: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA chief economist Robert Johansson and USDA budget officer Michael Young.
Schedule: The House Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation budget is Wednesday, May 24, at 10:30 a.m. in 2362-B Rayburn.
Witnesses: Doug Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works; Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Army Corps commanding general and chief of engineers; Scott Cameron, special assistant in the Interior Department; and Alan Mikkelsen, acting commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Schedule: The House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Justice Department budget is Wednesday, May 24, at 1:30 p.m. in 2359 Rayburn.
Schedule: The House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Forest Service budget is Thursday, May 25, at 9:30 a.m. in 2007 Rayburn.
Witnesses: Perdue and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
Schedule: The House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Commerce Department budget is Thursday, May 25, at 10:30 a.m. in H-309 Capitol.
Witness: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Schedule: The Senate Budget Committee hearing is Thursday, May 25, at 9:45 a.m. in 608 Dirksen.