Letter to House Speaker Pelosi seeks movement of funds for homeland security, moon launch.
President Trump on Monday sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a bit of a “do-over” of his March fiscal 2020 budget request, seeking to move Defense, homeland security and NASA money to “correctly reflect” policies assumed in that budget.
Preliminary signs indicate that Democrats now in control of the House were not receptive.
Trump, attaching a memo with technical language from acting Budget Director Russell Vought, said he was asking Congress to consider the “enclosed fiscal year 2020 budget amendments for the Departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Labor, State and Other International Programs, and Transportation, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.“
Specifically, the White House update—coming in the midst of May appropriations hearings on Capitol Hill on a budget in which Trump called for major cuts—mentioned adding NASA money to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2024, restoring Education Department support for the Special Olympics (the original proposal for cuts became controversial), and beefed-up budgets for the Florida Everglades, Great Lakes and coastal protected areas under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard.
Without adding to the overall size of the budget, Trump said, he would also like to restore funding for the Refueling and Complex Overhaul of the USS Truman aircraft carrier.
Though many of the items are technical corrections removing outdated or unnecessary language, others are bound to spark controversy. Trump sought to reduce by $5.3 billion his request for next year’s Disaster Relief Fund to reflect added funds in the fiscal 2019 spending package still being debated in the House and Senate.
He would take more than called for earlier out of the Pell Grant Program, for a total of $3.9 billion in “cancellation.” OMB noted that “enrollment of Pell Grant recipients in higher education has declined continuously from 2011 to 2018 as the economy has improved.”
The new proposal also requested flexibility for the Pentagon to move funds among the Overseas Contingency Operations for military personnel, National Guard and Coast Guard (part of the Homeland Security Department) while trimming funds for the Defense Department inspector general. Trump would also move up to $250 million to security assistance to the government of Ukraine.
Policy-wise, the supplemental proposal seeks to allow a reorganization of HHS’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities with notification to Congress. It would allow the Labor Secretary to collect fees from applications to the HIRE Vets Medallion Program to spend on the operation of the Medallion program (a proposal excluded by mistake from the first budget). And it would remove erroneous language that would have authorized the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center to dispose of real property—a function assigned to the General Services Administration.
Asked for comment, House Appropriations Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., zeroed in the Pell Grants change. “This unconscionable proposal by the administration would undermine the stability of the Pell Grant program and jeopardize future assistance for students who need it most,” she told Government Executive. “Instead of making it harder for students to pursue higher education, Democrats are fighting to pass appropriations bills that give every American a better chance at a better life.”
As the House Appropriations panel prepared to approve the fiscal 2020 Interior-Environment spending bill on Wednesday, subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., displayed an equally negative reaction. “Our Interior-Environment funding bill totally rejects the pro-pollution, anti-public lands, anti-environmental protection budget proposal submitted to Congress by President Trump,” she said in a statement. “Instead, Democrats are prioritizing investments that ensure our air is safe to breathe and our water is safe to drink. We are protecting public lands and continuing our federal trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations. To keep our families and communities safe and healthy, the bill restores adequate funding to the Environmental Protection Agency.”