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Trump budget plan sets up a divide in Congress

By Kelsey Snell, Damian Paletta and Mike DeBonis

WASHINGTON – President Trump’s proposal to cut federal spending by more than $3.6 trillion over the next decade – including deep reductions for programs that help the poor – faced harsh criticism in Congress on Tuesday, where even many Republicans said the White House had gone too far.

While some fiscally conservative lawmakers, particularly in the House, found a lot to praise in Trump’s plan to balance the budget within 10 years, most Republicans flatly rejected the White House proposal. The divide sets up a clash between House conservatives and a growing number of Senate Republicans who would rather work with Democrats on a spending deal than entertain Trump’s deep cuts.

“This is kind of the game,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. “We know that the president’s budget won’t pass as proposed.”

Instead, Cornyn said he believes conversations are already underway about how Republicans can negotiate with Democrats to avoid across-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect in October. Those talks could include broad spending increases for domestic and military programs that break from Trump’s plan for deep cuts in education, housing, research and health care.

“I think that’s the only way,” Cornyn said of working with Democrats on spending. “It would be good to get that done so we can get the Appropriations Committee to get to work.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said such spending talks would be inevitable.

“We’ll have to negotiate the top line with Senate Democrats, we know that,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “They will not be irrelevant in the process and at some point, here in the near future, those discussions will begin.”

As Senate Republicans were discussing a bipartisan spending agreement, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney stood across town pitching Trump’s proposal to dramatically alter the role of government in society, shrinking the federal workforce, scaling back anti-poverty programs and cutting spending on things like disease research and job training. The $4.094 trillion proposal for fiscal year 2018 includes $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years to anti-poverty programs including Medicaid, food assistance and health insurance for low-income children.

It would slightly increase spending on the military, immigration control and border security and provide an additional $200 billion for infrastructure projects over 10 years. It would also allocate $1.6 billion for the creation of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Budget experts questioned many of the economic assumptions that the White House put into its plan, saying it was preposterous to claim that massive tax cuts and spending reductions will lead to a surge in economic growth. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, for example, said that using normal economic projections, the White House’s proposal would not eliminate the deficit and would allow U.S. debt to continue growing into the next decade.

“Rather than making unrealistic assumptions, the president must make the hard tax and spending choices needed to truly bring the national debt under control,” it said.

The White House proposals represent a defiant blueprint for a government realignment that closely follows proposals made in recent years by some of the most conservative members of the House, a group that once included Mulvaney himself. Trump has alleged that safety net programs create a welfare state that pull people out of the workforce, and his budget would cull these programs back.

Republicans are keenly interested in passing a budget this year because they hope to use that legislation to lay the groundwork for a GOP-friendly rewrite of the tax code.

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