TRAHANT REPORTS— President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration weekend: Pomp and circumstance. Pettiness and chaos. Huge crowds of supporters. And even larger crowds from the Women’s March in cities and small towns around the world.
If this is day one, remember there are fourteen hundred and fifty-nine to go.
The size of the marches must have been too much for the president’s ego. His press secretary took stage to denounce the media in an angry tirade.
Off-stage the Trump White House was preparing “dramatic budget cuts,” according to The Hill newspaper. The Hill learned of the cuts because senior White House officials have begun telling agency budget officers to prepare for a restructuring of government.
The plan calls for a reduction of $10.5 trillion in spending over the next decade. Except the Trump plan calls for an increase in military spending meaning that domestic programs would have to take even bigger cuts in order to reach the total. One projection: Agency budgets would be cut by at least 10 percent and overall the size of the federal workforce would shrink by 20 percent.
The framework for these spending cuts was developed by the Heritage Foundation and the House Republican Study Committee.
Heritage recommends deep immediate cuts to reach “primary balance” in the budget the first year of the new administration. (Primary balance does not include net interest.)
The Heritage plan calls for elimination of the Violence Against Women Act funding by the Department of Justice, community policing programs, and legal aid. The conservative think-tank says those programs are a “misuse of federal resources and a distraction from concerns that are truly the province of the federal government.”
Tribal governments receive Justice Department grants both in programs directed at tribes and those that are in the broader category of funding for states and tribes.
The Heritage framework proposes a radical restructuring of Indian education programs. It calls for the creation of Education Savings Accounts for students who attend Bureau of Indian Education Schools. That funding would equal 90 percent of the per pupil funding formula. The idea is that students could use this money at any school, including private ones. “Such an option would provide a lifeline to the 48,000 children currently trapped in BIE schools which have been deemed the ‘worst schools in America.'”
The idea stems from a Heritage Issue Brief on Education by Lindsey Burke. The paper says “it’s appropriate for Congress to seriously consider ways to improve the education offered to Native American children living on or near reservations. Instead of continuing to funnel $830 million per year to schools that are failing to adequately serve these children, funds should be made accessible to parents via an education savings account, enabling families to choose options that work for them and that open the doors of educational opportunity.”
The report doesn’t address what private alternatives, or even what the public school options, are available in remote reservations communities.
Another radical restructuring plan involves Indian housing programs. The Heritage Blueprint calls for a phasing out of subsidized housing programs over the next decade. “States should determine how and to what extent they will replace these subsidized housing programs with alternatives designed and funded by state and local authorities,” Heritage said.
All Indian housing programs, or what’s left of those programs after budget cuts, would be transferred to the Department of the Interior.
The Heritage Blueprint calls for more tribal authority over fracking, limiting the regulatory oversight by the Department of the Interior or other federal agencies.
The Heritage plan would eliminate the Minority Business Development Agency, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcast. Energy programs that focus on renewable energy and climate change would also be gone.
The Heritage Blueprint does not address appropriations for either the Indian Health Service or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. However The Hill reports one of the architects for the budget is reportedly a former staffer for Sen. Rand Paul, (R-KY). Paul proposed a budget in 2012 that would eliminate the Bureau of Indian Affairs and slash the Indian Health Service budget by 20 percent.
The Heritage Blueprint does not address Medicaid spending but House conservatives have routinely called for that program to become a block grant for states.
One difference between the Heritage plan and early reports about the Trump transition team is that entitlement programs would not be subject to budget cuts. Yet all of the plans call for more money for military spending. That puts all the burden on domestic programs, an idea that is unlikely to work.
The official Trump budget proposals are expected within 45 days, according to The Hill. That budget would then go to Congress for debate and approval.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports.