BY MARTIN KIDSTON
Sen. Jon Tester this week criticized the Trump administration’s $4.8 trillion budget proposal for its sweeping cuts to Medicaid and healthcare, public lands, Social Security and rural infrastructure, saying it instead funds additional tax cuts for wealthy Americans.
But Sen. Steve Daines called it little more than a blueprint, saying it’s Congress and not the president that makes fiscal decisions on government funding.
Still, the state’s outdoor community reacted swiftly this week after the administration released its budget blueprint, which eyes the Land and Water Conservation Fund for deep cuts.
Marne Hayes, executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors, said the president’s proposal would slash the program by 97%, funding it at just $14.7 million when it’s authorized at $900 million.
“Our elected officials have stood by long enough, and it’s time for the Montana leaders in the majority party to take this conservation funding seriously, provide some certainty for Montana’s outdoor recreation economy, and fight to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Hayes. “Montana businesses are tired of waiting.”
In an afternoon email, Daines’ office accused certain outdoor groups of intentionally distorting the facts around the administration’s proposed funding for the program.
LWCF was funded at $495 million in 2020, representing the highest funding level since 2003, a spokesperson said. She added that the $15 million proposed for 2021 didn’t represent an apples to apples comparison, nor the intent of Congress.
“These groups are purposely blurring the lines, trying to catch a headline,” Daines’ office said. “Congress is what funds LWCF, not the administration. The number LWCF will be funded at for 2021 will be through the appropriations process, not the budget.”
But Tester also placed at just $14.7 million the president’s proposed funding for LWCF. The budget also targets healthcare, cutting $465 billion from payments to Medicare providers and $75 billion from Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, according to Tester.
The administration’s budget also looks to eliminate aspects of the Affordable Care Act while cutting around $980 billion from Medicaid in 2021.
“It funds tax cuts for the wealthy by slashing Medicare and healthcare for rural families, cutting rural infrastructure projects, and decimating our public lands and outdoor recreation economy,” Tester said. “Rural America deserves better than to be thrown under the bus as it drives even further into the swamp.”
Trump’s budget would also cut the EPA’s Superfund program by 10% and cap the ranks of agency employees at the lowest level since 1986. It would cut funding for energy research in half and cut funding for a number of other agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service.
It also eyes a number of social programs for cuts, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Instead, the budget would provide $2.7 billion for NASA, marking a 12% increase, while investing $1 trillion in infrastructure over the next decade. It would also direct $2 billion for more border wall, and it assumes that Congress would extend the GOP’s expiring tax cuts at a cost of $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years.
“We need to tackle wasteful spending and our national debt, which has exploded over the past three years,” Tester said. “But this administration’s irresponsible budget proposal does neither.”
Daines’ office said the president’s proposal was nothing more than a starting point.
“The budget put forth by any administration is simply a blue print,” said Katie Schoettler. “Congress has the power of the purse and is the body that actually makes the decisions and funds the government.”