"WASHINGTON—Congressional Republicans on Thursday embraced President Donald Trump’s instinct to cut government initiatives considered wasteful, but divisions arose immediately over whether his new budget proposal had targeted the right programs for cuts.
“I do not agree with each and every line item,” said Rep. Leonard Lance (R., N.J.). He said Congress would be “penny-wise but pound-foolish’’ to approve Mr. Trump’s proposed cuts to the Coast Guard, some Justice Department programs and the National Endowment for the Arts, which the president would eliminate entirely.
Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) issued a forceful objection to the proposal to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program funded through the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at cleaning up a cluster of lakes along the northern border.
Democrat Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia said the budget “does not reflect a balanced approach. Instead, it includes many shortsighted choices that if implemented could actually harm our country’s strength and long-term growth.”
The early reaction showed how difficult it is for presidents to eliminate federal programs, most of which have their own constituencies in Congress.
Mr. Trump, in a budget for fiscal 2018 released Thursday, is calling for deep reductions in foreign aid and funding for medical research, the arts, climate-change research and other domestic programs to pay for a bigger military, a wall along the nation’s southern border and veterans’ programs.
``There is no question, this is a hard-power budget,’’ said White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, referring to the administration’s preference for military spending over spending on the State Department and foreign aid. ``It is not a soft-power budget. It is a hard-power budget. And that was done intentionally.’’
While most Republicans want to spend more on defense, many also support U.S. efforts to project soft power through diplomacy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, discussing reports last month that Mr. Trump would propose big cuts to the State Department, said that the ``diplomatic portion of the federal budget is very important, and you get results a lot cheaper frequently than you do on the defense side.’’
Overall, the budget aims to offset an increase of $54 billion in military spending with equivalent cuts in other programs. Nineteen domestic programs would be eliminated.
The Trump administration on Thursday defended domestic spending cuts in its budget blueprint. Mr. Mulvaney said the president had run on this platform and the White House can’t maintain spending on programs that don’t yield results.
Mr. Mulvaney said cuts to a program like the Community Development Block Grants, which some states use to support Meals on Wheels services for seniors, could be justified because the CDBG program had not delivered strong results.
The federal government can’t afford to continue to fund programs “just because they sound good…we can’t defend that any more,” Mr. Mulvaney said, adding that guarding taxpayer dollars is “compassionate.”
The director, who previously served as a Republican member of Congress and was known as a deficit hawk, also said that foreign aid cuts should not come as any surprise because the president repeatedly had pledged to make them during his campaign.
The budget doesn’t touch the roughly $2.5 trillion in annual outlays on entitlements and other mandatory spending, such as Medicare and Social Security. Republicans in Congress have long wanted to rein in those programs to reduce federal deficits.
“So far, there’s no emphasis on going after where all the money is in the budget, which is what happened with his predecessors, too,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, who ran the Congressional Budget Office for several years under President George W. Bush.
Reaction to the budget among Republicans marked a contrast from the reception Mr. Trump received when he addressed a joint session of Congress little more than two weeks ago. Then, Mr. Trump urged unity in an address to a joint session of Congress that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) labeled a home run.
On Thursday, Republicans were more measured. Mr. Ryan said that Mr. Trump’s proposal marked only the beginning of the budget process. “We’ll have a full hearing about how priorities will be met,” Mr. Ryan said. “But, do I think we can cut spending and get waste out of government? Absolutely. Where and how and what numbers, that’s something we’ll be figuring out as time goes on.”
Sen. Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, applauded Mr. Trump’s impulses, calling it crucial to ``eliminate government programs that are duplicative or not delivering results.’’
History shows that presidents have a hard time realizing the most ambitious of their budget-cutting plans. President Ronald Reagan proposed eliminating the Department of Education, without success.
At the same time, Mr. Reagan’s record shows that Congress can be cajoled to endorse deep spending cuts. Mr. Reagan won $35.2 billion worth of cuts from projected fiscal 1982 spending levels in his first-ever budget battle, cutting the school-lunch program and arts funding.
But weeks after he had signed those reductions into law, Congress balked at a new request for $13 billion in cuts, and Mr. Reagan had to settle for only $4 billion.
“In general, the U.S. government does things incrementally, so big changes seldom happen unless there’s a crisis,“ said analyst Stan Collender, who tracks the U.S. budget. “It’s even harder to make big changes now, because we’ve had about a decade of steady pressure budgets of agencies, and if they’re still around at this point, they just have the political support to stick around.“
Steve Bell, a longtime budget aide who is now a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the budget proposal had no chance of passing Congress.
“It is a budget that is more for messaging and public relation purposes for the Republican base than it is as a serious effort,” he said, adding that the spending proposal would “hit places that even many Republicans think is inappropriate.”"