State Dept plans to cut $10 bln
Tax cuts quiet GOP call for fiscal discipline
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.