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Leading GOP: Congress Must Have 'Courage' to Trim Entitlements Trump Budget Doesn't Touch

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) speaks with reporters after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Nov. 17, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

A deputy whip for House Republicans declared a day after President Trump released his budget priorities that Congress “needs to have enough courage in its budget” to offset increased spending with entitlement reform, which Trump didn’t touch while suggesting deep cuts to other programs.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told MSNBC this morning that the budget is “a mixed bag” for Trump voters, but he “could pay for these things with tweaks in entitlement programs, quite frankly” instead of cuts that are already drawing criticism.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), for example, an early Trump supporter, told CNN last night that he wouldn’t vote for any cuts in Meals on Wheels funding, which gets the ax in Trump’s budget proposal.

Cole said leaders could revisit President Obama’s 2014 proposal on “means testing for Medicare and what’s called change CPI, which slows down the growth of the program.”

“Doesn’t actually cut anything, but slows down the rate of inflation. And, you know, those yield tens of billions of dollars over the course of a decade. So that’s what I hope Congress does,” he said.

Cole said Congress will consider Trump’s priorities and “ought to take them pretty seriously in how we appropriate,” but drew the line at Trump’s proposals to cut funding for the National Institutes of Health by 20 percent and to change the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding.

“You’re much more likely to die in a pandemic than a terrorist attack. And so that’s part of the defense of the country as well. The CDC is what protects you from things like Ebola and Zika. The NIH, we have 1.6 million Americans a year that contract cancer. About 600,000 die. That’s more people than died in the Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history. So being on the cutting edge for curing cancer, looking at Alzheimer’s, we spent tens of billions of dollars every year taking care of Alzheimer’s patients. That’s the right thing to do, by the way. But we ought to spend enough money to try and find a cure or at least slowdown that deadly disease,” the congressman said.

“So these, in my view, are cuts that are very short-sighted. These are investments the country ought to be making. They’re every bit as important as what we do with another Ohio-class submarine or with, you know, a new F-35. I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but these things are important as well.”

The EPAC, Cole predicted, “will get a haircut but I doubt it will be quite as deep as this budget suggests.”

“Almost half the EPA’s budget, frankly, is grants for clean water and, you know, tribal grants, things of that nature. I think those are actually pretty popular and pretty well-served,” he said. “The regulatory function, there’s no question, they put some things in there that are not particularly popular and I don’t think particularly helpful.”

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats coalition, said in a morning press conference that he didn’t think “Trump’s people understood what they were doing” in the budget’s agriculture cuts.

“One of the things that this budget demonstrates is the danger of writing a budget when you don’t have an ag secretary at the table to advocate for their agency,” he said. “…We provide tremendous service to this country in rural American. We have the cheapest food and I don’t think that most people understand what a bargain they’re getting, and if you screw this up, which this budget will help do, you’re gonna raise the cost of food substantially.”

Peterson noted that if the Heritage Foundation “got their way, they would get rid of all farm programs.”

“Well, we’ve tried that. We tried that in ’96 with Freedom to Farm. Saved $40 billion — $30 billion, whatever it was at the time. It ended up costing us over $100 billion to bail people out after the experiment failed. You know, how many times do we have to do this to realize that this isn’t gonna work?” he added.

“…There’s not support on the Agriculture Committee to do what they’ve done on this budget. And I don’t think there’s support on the Republican Caucus to do what they’ve done on this budget in agriculture.”