President Trump’s budget proposal, released on Thursday, echoes none of the populist, anti-establishment themes of candidate Trump’s campaign for higher office. Instead, it calls for a large increase in defense spending while reducing spending for a variety of popular domestic programs.
That’s not surprising considering where those ideas came from. Rather than bringing in new ideas from outside of the Beltway, many of its proposals are lifted straight from the recommendations of an elite ultra-conservative D.C. think tank: the Heritage Foundation.
Founded in 1973, Heritage has served as a sort of a watering hole for the Republican establishment, providing policy papers and staffers for GOP members of Congress and presidential administrations. Its 2015 annual report listed almost $100 million in revenues — drawn from conservative mega-donors and corporations — which it uses to facilitate the spread of its ideas across Washington, D.C.
And those ideas have found a home in the Trump administration, which leaned heavily on Heritage advice during the transition period. Many of the White House proposal’s ideas are identical to a budget blueprint Heritage drew up last year.
Here are just a few examples:
- Eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC): Trump’s campaign performed well in Appalachia, but that didn’t prevent his budget from axing the ARC, which supports infrastructure projects such as highways and water and sewer lines in Eastern Kentucky and other parts of the region. Heritage’s blueprint recommended the cut, essentially saying that economic development in this region should not be the federal government’s problem: “If states and localities see the need for increased spending in these areas, they should be responsible for funding it.”
- Killing Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA): Since its establishment in 1965, the NEA has supported countless artistic and cultural projects across America. Despite perennial criticism of some of its activities, administrations of both parties have maintained its federal funding. The Trump budget calls for its elimination, echoing Heritage’s blueprint, which bemoans that “taxpayers should not be forced to pay for plays, paintings, pageants, and scholarly journals, regardless of the works’ attraction or merit.”
- Ending Support for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC): The LSC provides support for legal assistance for indigent Americans. The White House budget offers no specific justification for ending it. But the Heritage blueprint says the LSC should be “abolished because it is not a duty of the federal government to provide defense in these types of cases. Many state and local governments already provide funding for indigent legal defense and are better equipped to address the needs of those in their communities who rely on these free services.” (State indigent defense funds are constantly underfunded and in danger of being unable to meet the demand.)
- Terminating Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB): The White House proposes ending all federal funds for the CPB, which supports public programming like Sesame Street. The Heritage blueprint requests that change, offering market pablum as justification: “Many nonprofits manage to stay in business without receiving federal funding by being creative and reacting to market fluctuations. Public broadcasters should be no exception.”
Heritage is certainly pleased with the outcome — mostly. It put out a statement on Thursday praising the White House budget proposal.
“President Trump’s budget proposal marks a stark contrast from the reckless spending of the past administration. The proposed cuts to non-defense programs, together with executive actions to streamline federal agencies and cut waste, signal that this administration is serious about cutting the bloated Washington bureaucracy down to size,” it wrote. “Congress should work with the administration to bring greater accountability to government.”
There was just one part the think tank didn’t like — it complained that Trump’s call for an additional $54 billion in defense spending just isn’t big enough: “President Trump’s 2018 defense budget proposal represents a clear commitment to rebuilding the military and a desire to repeal damaging sequestration defense caps. However, this increase is insufficient to begin the much-needed re-building.”