By Alexander Bolton - 01-23-17 06:00 AM EST
President Trump may be headed into a big fight with Republican lawmakers with his plans for dramatic cuts to federal spending.
Officials in the Trump administration are combing through conservative budgets to find ways to save money in an effort to get rid of the "tremendous waste, fraud and abuse" that Trump pledged to eliminate during the campaign.
Many of the proposals that the officials are reviewing would gain support from a majority of conservative House Republicans, who have sought to cut the federal deficit by scrapping government programs they view as unnecessary.
But some of Trump's targets have fans in the GOP-controlled Congress, particularly in the Senate.
Trump's team is working with the Office of Management and Budget to lay the groundwork for the new administration's initial budget proposal, which is expected to reach Congress in the next 45 days.
In their search for savings, the administration is relying on proposals outlined last year by the Heritage Foundation in its "Blueprint for Balance: a federal budget for 2017."
Many of the cuts hew closely to the fiscal year 2017 budget plan adopted by the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus that represents a majority of House Republicans. Trump's incoming budget director, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), is an RSC member.
One likely target is the Legal Services Corporation, a federal agency providing financial support for civil legal aid to low-income people. Conservatives have long sought its elimination, arguing it has become beholden to liberal causes and noting the Congressional Budget Office has recommended its defunding. Eliminating it would save nearly $400 million next year.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, this week warned that it's not a battle worth fighting.
"I think that would be hard thing to do. Even if you wanted to do that, you couldn't get it through the Senate," he said.
President Reagan tried to abolish the agency shortly after taking office in 1981 but ran into a wall in Congress.
"It's been repeatedly tried, but the reality is it's the only way that a lot of poor folks, especially rural poor, get any kind of legal help," said Jim Dyer, who served for 13 years as the Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.
"It's almost like they sat down over there and dragged out all of their old wish list, most of which of has been discarded, and said to themselves, 'Let's put it on the table and see who salutes,'" he added.
Another proposal embraced by Heritage and the RSC budget plans is the elimination of the essential air service program, a program that subsidizes rural airports serving sparsely populated communities.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she would pull out all the stops to fight for it.
"What? What?" she exclaimed. "I care about it a great deal.
"It would basically shut down rural Alaska," she added. "If there is discussion about that, we as the Alaska delegation really have to ramp it up and let people know how critical it is. This is not a nice to have, it's a must have."
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a senior member of the House Transportation Committee who said he was attending his 10th presidential inauguration Friday, echoed Murkowski's concern.
"That won't happen," he said of the possibility of zeroing out the air program. "Remember, Congress still plays a role in this."
"We don't have any highways in Alaska; that's why it's called essential air service," he added.
Trump's team is discussing the elimination of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Those proposals are likely to find support from conservatives, but some GOP lawmakers are warning that efforts to tackle the nation's fiscal problems through discretionary spending are shortsighted.
"Any effort to balance the budget by cutting discretionary spending is not a straightforward approach," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
He argues that discretionary spending, which accounts for only a third of the federal budget and was subject to cuts known as sequestration during President Obama's tenure, is under control.
"The part of the budget that is creating the debt is the entitlement part of the budget," he said, referring to spending on Medicare and Medicaid.
Trump has vowed, however, to not make cuts to Medicare or Social Security.
Some senior Republicans say they're willing to look at cutting or reforming programs within their jurisdiction.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said he would look carefully at programs that have been criticized as corporate welfare.
Trump transition officials are looking at eliminating the International Trade Administration, the Economic Development Administration, the Minority Business Development Agency and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
"It's useful to have a fresh set of eyes on a lot of these programs and to reexamine them in light of what our needs are," he said.
But others are girding for battle, setting up internal fights over spending for later this year.
Mississippi Republicans will oppose proposals in the Heritage Foundation's blueprint and the RSC budget to eliminate the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) catfish inspection program.
Mississippi is the nation's leading producer of catfish, with 35,000 acres of water devoted to catfish farms, according to the USDA.
The Heritage Foundation argues that requiring the Agriculture Department to inspect catfish duplicates work being done by the Food and Drug Administration and creates a trade barrier by applying new regulatory requirements to foreign exporters.
But Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) says doing away with the program "would be a problem and wouldn't save any money."
He noted that conservatives already tried to kill the program under the Congressional Review Act but fell short in the House.
"We'll engage in this fight if we have to, but it's a ship that really has already sailed and the American taxpayer is better off and the American consumer is better off," he said.