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Trump Administration To Boost Defense Spending In Budget Proposal

Feb 27, 2017
Originally published on February 28, 2017 6:02 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Donald Trump has promised again and again to rebuild the U.S. military, and today we're getting a first look at what that might mean. The president is proposing a federal budget that would dramatically increase defense spending by about $54 billion, or 10 percent.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This defense spending increase will be offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the federal government. We're going to do more with less.

CORNISH: Where those savings will come from is one of many open questions. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us from the White House to answer them. And Mara, this isn't legislation - right? - so...

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: That's right.

CORNISH: What exactly - how do we categorize that?

LIASSON: This is not a piece of legislation. This is an expression of the president's budget priorities. It's called a top-line budget outline. A full outline will come in mid-March and then a more detailed budget proposal later in May. What he wants to do is increase the military by about 10 percent - $54 billion - and then decrease domestic discretionary programs by the same amount. He's not going to touch entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

So just to give you an example, State Department's budget is $38 billion. The EPA, which Donald Trump promised during the campaign to cut to the point where only, quote, "little tidbits" are left, is only $8 billion. So he's - it's going to be hard to find that 54 billion.

The other thing to remember is that to have these cuts happen, you have to undo what's called the sequester. The Budget Control Act of 2011 put caps on defense and discretionary programs. It takes 60 votes to raise those caps. And that law prohibited transferring money from one pot to the other. In other words, you can't take money from defense and put it in domestic or vice versa.

CORNISH: But the big entitlements like Social Security and Medicare - are they still off the table?

LIASSON: Yes, they're still off the table. Donald Trump promised during the campaign that he wouldn't touch them, and that promise is still holding. Don't forget that Republicans - and especially conservative House Republicans - and the OMB director used to be one of them - believed very strongly that in order to shrink the deficit, you had to attack entitlements. But that is not going to happen right now. We also don't know how Obamacare repeal or tax reform will affect the budget. This is just a blueprint.

CORNISH: Now, turning over to some other news, in this past weekend, at least one Republican congressman - Darrell Issa of California - called for an independent investigation into the possibility that the president's associates had ties to Russia. Did this come up in the White House briefing?

LIASSON: Yes, it did, and Sean Spicer said there is no need for a special prosecutor. He said, how many people have to say there's nothing there before you realize there's nothing there? Trump himself was asked about this today, and he said there's no need for a special prosecutor. He said he hasn't, quote, "called Russia in 10 years." So they're pushing back hard against this, although those investigations are continuing.

CORNISH: And then speaking of Sean Spicer, Politico reported that he brought his staff together to question them about leaking to the media, demanding they turn over their cell phones for examination. Did Spicer confirm this today?

LIASSON: He said there was not an internal leak investigation. He didn't speak specifically to the story about him asking people to turn over their cell phones. I think the bottom line is this is a president who is very angry about leaks, and he's now realizing that some of the leaks come from his own White House.

CORNISH: This has been such an issue. And last week ended with President Trump, you know, calling media the enemy of the people and administration officials calling briefings to basically push back against all of these stories. What's it like in that room?

LIASSON: Well, it wasn't - it didn't have a lot of animosity at all today. Sean Spicer was chuckling and smiling. The point is that going after the press is still a conscious strategy for this White House. President Trump thinks it works. His top strategist, Steve Bannon, has called the press the opposition party and said it's going to only get worse. But the point is that that battle against the press is not going to be waged every single day in the White House briefing room.

CORNISH: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.