Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday expressed regret that President Trump’s budget proposal suggests cutting a program he said was “effective.”
At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the administration’s budget blueprint, Ross faced questions from both sides of the aisle on a variety of programs slated for elimination.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) asked specifically about the Economic Development Administration (EDA), which provides funding to help economically distressed communities.
“I’m proud of the investments that the EDA has made in the last 52 years in economically distressed regions, and am proud of the outcomes of those investments which spurred local innovation and entrepreneurship and saved jobs and leveraged private investments,” Ross said.
The program, he continued, is on Trump’s chopping block because the president is prioritizing defense and security.
“I think they have been an effective program, but there is a limited amount of funding to go around, and one has to make unpleasant and difficult choices, and this was one of the more unpleasant and difficult ones,” he said when pressed on the program later in the hearing.
Ross added that the government has some 80 programs for development assistance spread over four agencies, but he was criticized for failing to spell out whether any of the others would provide the same services or receive reallocations of the EDA money.
“It would be one thing if the administration had come to Congress and said, ‘Here’s our plan for actually better organizing those activities and pooling those resources,’ ” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Instead, he said the administration is simply making cuts.
The EDA was not the only program senators felt should be rescued from the hatchet.
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) protested research and development cuts and the elimination of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which supports manufacturing through private-public partnerships.
“You’re saying this program is not flawed, it is not one that fails to deliver results, but at a time of hard budget choices it falls below the line,” Coons said.
Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he was “troubled by some of the proposed cuts to other core programs,” pointing to proposed 45 percent reductions in the Polar Follow-On program, which funds weather satellites used to predict hurricanes and severe storms.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) complained that many programs that operate in his state would be defunded.
Ross told the hearing that the administration was relying on economic growth resulting from tax cuts and deregulation to boost the lot of everyone in the economy.
“Many difficult decisions were necessary to reach the funding level provided in this budget,” he said.
The president’s budget plan is nonbinding and is meant to provide Congress, which allocates funds, with an idea of an administration’s priorities.