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October 22, 2018 3:45 PM, EDT

Trump Orders Federal Spending Cuts as Chao Touts Regulatory Streamlining

Trump and Chao in Cabinet meeting Sitting next to Chao, Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting on Oct. 17. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

The U.S. Department of Transportation and other federal agencies have to come up with a 5% reduction in their budgets for next year, President Donald Trump told his Cabinet during a recent meeting at the White House.

“I’m going to ask each of you to come back with a 5% budget cut from your various departments. Whether it’s a secretary, an administrator, whatever, I’m going to ask everybody with a 5% cut for our next meeting. I think you’ll all be able to do it,” the president said Oct. 17.

“Get rid of the fat. Get rid of the waste. And I’m sure you can do it. I’m sure everybody at this table can do it. It will have a huge impact,” added Trump, whose order came shortly after the Treasury Department indicated the deficit was $779 billion in fiscal 2018, which was $113 billion more than in the last fiscal year.

Several days later, speaking to reporters in Nevada, Trump indicated Republican leaders were working on a tax cut proposal that would target the middle-income bloc nationwide. The president did not expound on the plan, which he said would likely be produced shortly before the midterm elections Nov. 6. Congress is in recess through mid-November. A GOP-led tax overhaul was enacted last year.

At the White House meeting, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao emphasized that officials at her department had withdrawn nearly two dozen regulations that “didn’t make sense, that were nonsensical, that were overly burdensome, that were basically red tape.”

The secretary explained that in the first year of the Trump administration, DOT achieved $1.2 billion in savings by addressing regulatory reforms while next year the department is expected to accomplish an extra $2 billion in regulatory cost savings. Early into his presidency, Trump directed agencies, such as DOT, to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation issued.

“[DOT] is hard at work to reduce red tape and overly burdensome regulations; regulations that are duplicative, that don’t contribute to safety, that inhibit economic growth and job creation and also negatively impact the quality of life for all of us,” Chao said during the meeting. “The department has exceeded the 2-to-1 mandate that you’ve just heard about for regulatory reform in fiscal year 2018.”

Trump’s call for budget reductions at the agencies notwithstanding, congressional leaders have been known to balk at administrations that propose deep budget cuts. This year, for example, funding leaders in the Senate pushed back on Trump’s proposed cuts to transportation.

Senate appropriators proposed $1 billion for infrastructure grants, as the Trump administration sought not to fund the grants in its fiscal 2019 budget request.

“The administration has also proposed to eliminate the highly effective and popular TIGER competitive grant program, which, as the secretary correctly noted at a recent ribbon cutting, can help grow local economies, create jobs and make travel easier,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told Chao during a hearing in April. Collins is the chamber’s top transportation appropriator. “This program offers funding for states and local governments that would otherwise have nowhere to turn to make vital infrastructure improvements in our nation’s roads, bridges, ports and railways.”

During the Obama administration, those grants were called TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. During Chao’s tenure they were renamed BUILD, or Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development.

Lawmakers left Capitol Hill in mid-October without clearing for the White House a fiscal 2019 transportation funding bill. Federal transportation funding has been appropriated under a short-term measure that expires Dec. 7. Congressional leaders indicated they intend to schedule votes on funding legislation after their fall recess. Before leaving Washington to campaign in their districts, senators approved a fiscal 2019 transportation funding bill. The House had not.