State Dept plans to cut $10 bln

Tax cuts quiet GOP call for fis­cal dis­ci­pline

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASHINGTON, Sept 16, (Agen­cies): State De­part­ment of­fi­cials briefed Se­nate staff on Fri­day on plans to cut up to $10 bil­lion from the de­part­ment’s bud­get over five years, but of­fered few specifics to ease con­cerns that the ad­min­is­tra­tion risked weak­en­ing US stand­ing in the world.

The plan is the re­sult of an on­go­ing as­sess­ment of the de­part­ment or­dered by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sec­re­tary of state, Rex Tiller­son.

It in­cludes broad goals such as “max­i­miz­ing the im­pact of for­eign as­sis­tance” and “im­prov­ing gov­er­nance” for in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy plat­forms, ac­cord­ing to a copy of the pre­sen­ta­tion seen by Reuters.

Mem­bers of Congress have been vy­ing with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for more in­flu­ence over for­eign pol­icy. In par­tic­u­lar, many law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing some of Trump’s fel­low Repub­li­cans, worry about his plans to slash the State De­part­ment bud­get to help boost mil­i­tary spend­ing.

The Repub­li­can-led Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee is­sued a blis­ter­ing re­port last week ac­com­pa­ny­ing its spend­ing plan for State, ac­cus­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of pur­su­ing a “doc­trine of re­treat” on for­eign pol­icy.


Last week, the com­mit­tee voted 31-0 for leg­is­la­tion al­lo­cat­ing more than $51 bil­lion for the State De­part­ment and for­eign op­er­a­tions next year, nearly $11 bil­lion more than the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest.

The pre­sen­ta­tion was more spe­cific as it listed what State and the US Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (USAID) did not in­tend to do. That list said there is no plan to dis­man­tle State and USAID, elim­i­nate the Bureau of Democ­racy, Hu­man Rights and La­bor, or con­cen­trate power in Tiller­son’s hands.

A Se­nate aide who at­tended said both Repub­li­cans and Democrats seemed frus­trated at the lack of specifics.

“It was tense in the room at times, with staff from both par­ties ask­ing for specifics and warn­ing the State De­part­ment of­fi­cials that it would be dif­fi­cult to de­fend this given the lack of speci­ficity and the on­go­ing prob­lems with early, con­sis­tent Con­gres­sional con­sul­ta­tion on a range of is­sues,” the aide said.

Tiller­son wants to elim­i­nate more than 2,000 po­si­tions at State, out of some 75,000 world­wide.

Mean­while, Repub­li­cans spooked world mar­kets in their ar­dor to cut spend­ing when Demo­crat Barack Obama was in the White House. Now, with Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump press­ing for po­lit­i­cally pop­u­lar tax cuts and bil­lions more for the mil­i­tary, few in the GOP are com­plain­ing about the na­tion’s soar­ing debt.

The tea par­ty­ers and other con­ser­va­tives who seized con­trol of the House in 2010 have mor­phed into Ron­ald Rea­gan-style sup­ply-siders while the GOP’s nu­mer­ous Pen­tagon pals run roughshod over the few hold­outs. Tax cuts in the works could add hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars to the debt while bi­par­ti­san pres­sure for more money for de­fense, in­fra­struc­ture and do­mes­tic agen­cies could mean al­most $100 bil­lion in ad­di­tional spend­ing next year alone.


The bot­tom line: The $20 tril­lion na­tional debt prom­ises to spi­ral ever higher with Repub­li­cans con­trol­ling both Congress and the White House.

“Repub­li­cans gave up on car­ing about deficits long ago,” be­moaned Repub­li­can Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, who was elected in the 2010 tea party class.

It’s a far cry from the Newt Gin­grich-led GOP revo­lu­tion that stormed Washington two decades ago with a man­date to bal­ance the bud­get and cut taxes at the same time. Or even from Repub­li­cans of 2001, who en­thu­si­as­ti­cally cut taxes un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, but only at a mo­ment when the gov­ern­ment was flush with money.

Now, deficits are back with a vengeance. Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity are draw­ing closer to in­sol­vency. Fis­cal hawks and watch­dogs like the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice warn that the debt is even­tu­ally go­ing to drag the econ­omy down.

But like Obama and Bush be­fore him, Trump isn’t talk­ing about deficits. Nei­ther much are vot­ers.

“Vot­ers, frankly, af­ter th­ese huge deficits, are say­ing, ‘Well, how much do deficits re­ally mat­ter?’” said former Sen Rick San­to­rum, R-Penn­syl­va­nia, a twotime pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. “We’re not Greece yet, right?”

Top­ping the im­me­di­ate agenda, how­ever, is a debt­fi­nanced drive to over­haul the tax sys­tem.

Top Capi­tol Hill Repub­li­cans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis­con­sin and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky had promised for months that a tax over­haul would not add to the deficit, with rate cuts fi­nanced by clos­ing loop­holes and other steps.

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