Critics of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump are saying his promises to reap big savings through small cuts to nondefense federal spending could have a disastrous effect on Veterans Affairs funding over the next decade.
During a speech before the Economic Club of New York on Thursday, Trump outlined plans for a $4.4 trillion tax cut "to stop the outflow of jobs from our country and open a new highway of jobs back into our country."
To pay for that and increased military spending, Trump promised to save $1 trillion over the next decade through "simple, common sense reforms" amounting to a 1 percent cut in nonmilitary federal programs. Other money would come from money theoretically generated by increased trade and economic success.
While many economists have disputed those latter savings, officials from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities focused their concerns on the 1 percent cut, saying it will quickly compound into major cuts for government services once inflation is factored in.
"By the tenth year, non-defense appropriations would be about 29 percent below current levels, after accounting for inflation," the group wrote in a report responding to Trump's speech.
"The category of funding targeted by the Trump plan covers a wide range of basic services, from veterans' medical care to scientific and medical research, border enforcement, education, child care … and maintenance of harbors, dams, and waterways."
In his speech, Trump reiterated his campaign promise that he would "take care of our vets who are treated so badly" but did not specify whether that would include exempting the Department of Veterans Affairs from budget cuts. Campaign officials did not respond to requests seeking clarification.
Trump did specify that military spending and entitlement spending would not be cut, and promised that middle-class families would see their tax bills cut by a third under his plan.
Officials from the campaign of his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called the potential cut to veterans services another example of Trump being unfit to serve as commander in chief.
"Once again Donald Trump has shown his true colors when it comes to our veterans," said campaign deputy foreign policy adviser Bishop Garrison, an Army veteran. "His latest revamp of his economic plan is for tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and large corporations while cutting investments in important priorities, veterans in particular.
"Put plainly, when you cut non-defense discretionary spending, you hurt veterans and their families."
Clinton has promised to prioritize "full-funding and advance appropriations for the entire Department of Veterans Affairs" if she becomes president.
The White House has requested a VA budget for fiscal 2017 of more than $177 billion, not including advance appropriations for certain health care programs in fiscal 2018. The agency is the second largest in terms of annual spending, behind the Defense Department.
Department officials have argued that annual increases in their funding are needed to keep pace with inflation and new services required by Congress. Over the last two years, they’ve fought against congressional plans to trim the president’s VA budget request by about 1 percent, saying it could seriously hurt their ability to deliver care and assistance to veterans.
But a growing number of Republicans on Capitol Hill have questioned whether officials have done enough to improve efficiency and root out waste in veterans programs. Even with their proposed smaller budget for fiscal 2017, the department would see a boost of more than 3 percent from this fiscal year. Follow @LeoShane
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at