St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)
Back in May, President Donald Trump unveiled his 2018 budget to a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Key senators and congressmen declared it dead on arrival, which was their way of declaring they were far from embracing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” populist fervor.
Sure enough. As Congress puts the finishing touches on appropriations measures for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, very few of Trump’s recommendations have survived. For all that Americans complain about federal spending, they don’t want to see important programs cut.
Consider the Senate bill approved by the Appropriations Committee recently to fund the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Trump’s budget would have zeroed out the Education Department’s $445 million annual funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
That’s a mere 0.01 percent of the federal budget, with most of the money going to 1,400 public television and radio stations around the country. But attacks on public broadcasting are painted as attacks on Big Bird and “Sesame Street,” and it always survives. It did so again this year.
Trump’s budget would have cut funding for public schools by $9.2 billion and begun a $1 billion school choice and voucher program. The appropriations committee voted that down 29-2.
Trump also wanted to make cuts to programs that help students afford college. The appropriators boosted spending on most of them, including raising the maximum Pell Grant for low-income students by $100 to $6,020. Plus the committee restored Pell Grant eligibility for students who were defrauded by accredited for-profit colleges that have closed. The unaccredited and now-defunct Trump University was not eligible for Pell Grant students.
Among the most egregious of Trump’s budget proposals in May were to cut medical research funding at the National Institutes of Health by 18 percent and whack 14 percent of the core budget of the Centers for Disease Control.
However, many members of Congress represent districts or states with universities where NIH grants pay for biomedical research. The pharmaceutical industry, which counts on NIH funding for much of the basic research for new drugs and treatments, has many friends on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Labor, Health and Education appropriations subcommittee, boasted on the Senate floor that for the third straight year his subcommittee had increased research funding at NIH by $2 billion.
He said cutting research funding would “hold back our ability to move forward with lifesaving cures and lifesaving practices.”
Alzheimer’s disease researchers and agencies that combat opioid abuse will receive big boosts. More is needed, but at least this is a start.
There are certain things that, when push comes to shove, the public expects government to do. Congress knows that. Trump is now learning.