U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both Tennessee Republicans, responded to President Donald Trump’s budget outline, which includes discretionary spending cuts fromexecutive departments and agencies.
The budget proposal-which drew criticism Thursday for cuts that would affect the arts, science and low-income citizens-includes increased spending for defense and discretionaryreductions to the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture and Department of State.
Both Corker and Alexander said that cuts in discretionary spending won’t balance the budget.
They said mandatory spending requirements, such as Social Security and Medicare, need to be addressed.
Alexander’s prepared statement pointed out that, under the Constitution, Congress approves discretionary spending through appropriation bills.
He said his priorities are national defense, national laboratories, the National Institutes of Health and national parks. Trump’s budget proposalcould hurt Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National ParkandOak Ridge National Laboratory.
“We will not balance the budget by cutting discretionary spending, which is only 31 percent of spending and is already under control because of earlier budget acts,” he also said. “Runaway entitlement spending-more than 60 percent of spending-is the real cause of the $20 trillion federal debt. With Medicaid reforms in the health care bill, Congress is taking an important step in addressing entitlement spending.”
Entitlement spending is part of mandatory spending and includes Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
Corker said that he appreciates the Trump administration’s effort to “cut waste and encourage efficiency,” but that the president and Congress must be able to address the real debt drivers: Medicare and Social Security.
“[If we don’t,]we will be complicit in shackling future generations with the financial burden of our own lack of discipline,” Corker said. “That is not a legacy I want to leave.”
He also said he thinks that the mandatory spending problem can be solved without harming those who are dependent on the programs, and he’s offered numerous legislative proposals that aim to achieve that.
“I am hopeful that the complete 2018 budget to be delivered in May will include appropriate reforms, because until we address this problem head-on, discretionary spending will continue to be under severe pressure,” Corker also said in a prepared statement.
Corker also commented on the proposed budget cuts for the Department of State, which leads the country on foreign policy. Trump’s budget calls for a29 percent cut to the State Department.
Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and member of the Budget Committee, said his team is in close contact with the State Department and he looks forward to discussing with Secretary Rex Tillerson how he thinks he can do his work at the suggested budget levels.
“At the end of the day, while the administration proposes a budget, ultimately it is the role of Congress to dispose it and fund government,” Corker also said. “I believe we can strike an appropriate balance that recognizes the critical role of diplomacy in keeping our military out of harm’s way and appropriately advancing our nation’s interests while ensuring taxpayer dollars are used in the most efficient and effective manner.”
Generally, Congress makes changes to the president’s budget proposal-and last year, members largely ignored President Barack Obama’s suggestions, according to The Washington Post.