WASHINGTON – Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, urged President Trump to look for waste at the Pentagon as a way to save money in the defense budget and said the administration should move forward with entitlement reform.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, combined spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security made up the largest portion of the federal budget in FY2016 with defense spending and non-defense spending about the same.
Lawmakers at the “Conversations with Conservatives” event on Capitol Hill last week were asked if they were concerned that Trump’s budget does not deal with entitlement program spending.
“The first question you have to address if you’re going to increase spending in any area – and like you have seen in his budget, he’s increasing it in military and defense – then are you going to cut from any other area? And I think he’s doing the right thing and that’s because of Mick,” Labrador said, referring to former congressman Mick Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director.
Labrador said the next step is for the president to work with Congress to make “major reforms” to entitlement programs.
“I know he’s been opposed to that, but when he sees what happens to his numbers this year – that if you increase defense spending, the left is not going to allow him to decrease non-defense discretionary to the extent that he wants to decrease it – we’re going to have to find a different way to balance the budget,” he said. “So if his main mission and his goal is to balance the budget, I think he will eventually realize you can’t do it just by working with discretionary spending. However, I think it’s a good sign that he started out with this first offer because he’s showing he’s serious about balancing the budget.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said he was “probably more optimistic on entitlement reform a few weeks ago than I am now.”
“And I agree with Raul that the president’s budget, generally what somebody would do is they would go light with defense knowing that we will plus it up, and instead the president was intellectually honest,” he said.
Meadows said he brought up entitlement reform during a meeting with Trump about a week ago.
“The pushback was a little stronger than I expected,” he said.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said Congress should put some sort of entitlement reform in place in the near future.
“If we don’t do something we’re not going to save Social Security or Medicaid,” he said.
Labrador pointed out that a full accounting of spending at the Pentagon has not been conducted.
“There hasn’t been an audit of the Pentagon, I think ever. We need to make sure we do the right things on defense. Just increasing military spending should not be what conservatives are about. We should make sure we are using military spending wisely like we look at every other item in the budget,” he said.
Last year, a study found $125 billion in waste at the Pentagon but officials reportedly moved to suppress the findings. Trump’s budget request raises defense numbers by $54 billion and eliminates federal spending for the National Endowment of the Arts, NPR and PBS. It also purges federal spending on the Community Development Block Grant, which partially funds the Meals on Wheels program, at Housing and Urban Development.
Labrador hopes Trump is looking for ways to save money at the Pentagon.
“Do we need as many generals as we have in the Pentagon? Do we need money going to some programs that maybe should be going to the troops? Those things all need to happen,” he said. “I think we make a mistake as Republicans where we say it’s OK to plus up [defense] spending and decrease everything else without really looking closely at the defense spending and the items within it. I think it’s a terrible mistake to do that, so I would encourage the president to look at that.”
Labrador said Congress should apply any savings in the defense budget to pay for the border wall.
“We need to do what’s necessary to protect the United States and we need to pay for that – we need to find pay-fors for that, for whatever increase in spending,” he said. “One of the reasons I suggested that maybe the president should look at the budget in defense is because maybe there are some areas there where we are wasting money where we could be using it for the border wall.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said the Trump administration and some lawmakers are working on finding out how much of the $4 billion previously allocated for a border barrier has already been spent.
“What happened to the $4 billion? We don’t need a wall all of the way. There are other things that can be done in other areas,” he said.
When specifically asked about the 28 percent cut to the State Department in Trump’s budget, Labrador said, “I haven’t looked at the budget closely enough to be able to answer your question.”
Gohmert agreed with the State Department cuts.
“As I understand it they had teams all over the world that we were paying lavish amounts of money and they weren’t promoting America, they were promoting the LGBT agenda – that’s not the State Department’s role. And so there are massive cuts. I’m not sure 28 percent is enough to cut what’s really not promoting the best interest of the United States,” he said.
When asked about the cuts to the program that partially funds Meals on Wheels, Gohmert said, “I have to look at those and see which ones really do affect my constituents.”
Labrador echoed Gohmert. “Specific questions about the budget I can’t answer. I haven’t looked at it.”
Labrador said House conservatives do not believe the current version of the American Health Care Act will reduce healthcare costs for all Americans. The members were asked if they are concerned about backlash from opposing the healthcare bill.
“Everyone’s obviously concerned about having, getting into a Twitter war with the president, but what I do every morning is I look at myself and I decide what do I believe – and am I OK losing my election because I did the things I promised my constituents,” he said.
“Do I know what’s going to happen if President Trump starts tweeting at me and starts telling people they need to defeat me? I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can live with myself if I do the things I promised my constituents that I am going to do,” Labrador added.
Gohmert said Trump’s door is open to suggestions from members of Congress about the legislation.
“I’ve found President Trump to be much more accommodating than our leadership has been so far,” he said.