The White House on Thursday attributed potential opposition to President Donald Trump’s budget request among congressional Republicans to parochial concerns and deference to special interest lobbyists.
“I have been on the Hill enough to know that some of these things will be very unpopular,” White House Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney, a former House member, said at a press briefing on Thursday.
That is to be expected, Mulvaney said, due to the inherent disconnect between the interests of the president, who represents the nation, and members of Congress, who are beholden to constituents and regional or local interest groups.
Members of Congress are “always dealing with special interests from back home. [They’re] dealing with lobbyists from back home. The president is not beholden to none of that,” Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney was fielding questions regarding a budget blueprint released by the White House on Thursday that called for deep cuts to a number of federal agencies—chiefly the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services—and proposed zeroing out funding for nineteen smaller federal offices.
White House budget requests are all subject to the congressional appropriations process and therefore almost never make it into law without significant revisions. But they can also signal a president's policy priorities, both to the public and to legislators themselves.
The priorities telegraphed by the White House's Thursday blueprint might chip away at local priorities in certain states or congressional districts. But concerns from members of congress representing those areas are not representative of the national interest, Mulvaney suggested.
“The president has drafted a budget for the entire nation because that’s who he sees himself as representing,” he said. “He did not have to ask lobbyists for input on this. He did not ask special interests for input on this. And he certainly didn’t focus on how these programs might impact a certain congressional district.”
Mulvaney described that attitude as consistent with Trump’s “America First” mantra. In many ways, the budget blueprint is a distillation of months of Trump speeches, campaign promises, and remarks to reporters.
It was crafted, Mulvaney said, by White House staff who went back through months of Trump’s public statements in order to translate his often broad-brush policy pronouncements into more detailed spending proposals.
That produced a budget proposal in line with many of Trump’s stated priorities, but it has also drawn early opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill, due in part to Trump’s disregard for local and regional priorities.
Sen. John McCain was blunt about the bill’s prospects. “It is clear that this budget proposed today cannot pass the Senate,” he said on Thursday.
Some of that opposition is due to cuts to legislators’ pet programs. Trump’s proposal to entirely defund an EPA initiative focused on restoring the Great Lakes, for instance, met stiff and quick opposition from Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who released a statement “strongly opposing” that portion of the budget blueprint.
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, said he had “many concerns” with the budget’s cuts in discretionary spending. Blunt has pushed additional funding for the National Institutes of Health, which would see its budget cut by $5.8 billion under Trump’s proposal.
But Blunt and other Republicans also portrayed the White House budget request as the first step in negotiations over fiscal year 2018 funding levels.
Speaker Paul Ryan signaled that he would be soliciting input from his conference as the appropriations process kicks off.
“I look forward to reviewing this with the Appropriations Committee and our entire conference,” he said in a statement.