RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump's budget blueprint is out this morning. And his economic plan for the country is coming into view. The budget outlines dramatic cuts to the federal workforce, a $54 billion increase in military spending, a downsizing of the Environmental Protection Agency and deep cuts to the State Department. Stephen Moore advised President Trump on economic policy during the campaign. He now directs the Project for Economic Growth at The Heritage Foundation. And he joins us now on the line. Welcome back to the program.
STEPHEN MOORE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: What do you make of this budget plan? Do you like how the investments and cuts line up?
MOORE: Well, it's very much in keeping with what Donald Trump has been saying for the last, you know, six or seven months, that he would reorient spending towards rebuilding the military and national security and reduce some of the domestic programs. And that's exactly what this - what this budget does. It's very much - you know, I've lived through a lot of these eras of Republican budgets.
I'm old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan came in and had a very similar kind of orientation. I remember when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over Congress. And they tried to cut many of these programs. So it's very much a Republican kind of conservative budget. And we'll see whether he can get these cuts through Congress. That's always difficult.
MARTIN: Let me ask you about that because Newt Gingrich, many Republicans have talked a lot for a long time about reducing the federal debt. And this has been really important. There are a lot of cuts in this budget but huge expenditures too, including a billion and a half dollars for a border wall. So will this budget satisfy Republicans who still care about reducing the debt?
MOORE: Well, that's a good question. I think certainly Donald Trump, when I used to talk to him about this during the campaign, he would say both publicly and privately that his first goal was to put Americans back into jobs and to rebuild the economy. That's one of the reasons he has this tax plan that would reduce business taxes and taxes on families. He believes, and I agree with him, that that will get America moving again and get more jobs moving back to America.
So this is, again, something that has been - so his first priority is getting the economy moving. And he said then we're going to deal with, you know, trying to bring this debt down. And frankly, I think that's the right priority because I'll tell you, Rachel, you can't really bring down this debt very much no matter how much you cut in spending if you don't get the economy moving and revenues coming into the government.
MARTIN: So you talk about the fact that this is a pro-military budget. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney has called the budget something of hard power, not soft power, referencing the almost 30 percent cut to the State Department, the 54 billion increase to the Pentagon's budget.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month, and I'm going to quote here, "I for one think the diplomatic portion of the federal budget is very important. You get results a lot cheaper frequently than you do on the defense side." So do you think boosting defense at the expense of diplomacy is the right economic choice?
MOORE: Sorry, was that Mitch McConnell you were quoting?
MARTIN: That was - Mitch McConnell said that. Yeah.
MOORE: Yeah. Well, that's a problem for Donald Trump if the majority leader of his own party is sort of questioning some of these priorities. Look. I happen to believe that the first priority of the United States government is to keep us safe and to make sure we have a strong national defense. Whether or not we need to spend $50 billion more for defense, I'm not an expert on these things.
But look. I do think there are a lot of - there's a lot of room for cuts. And by the way, it's not just the State Department. A lot of agencies would be reduced. Foreign aid would be - many of those programs would be zeroed out. They would see cuts in some of the programs that frankly Donald Trump, and I agree with him again, are just unnecessary or not a high priority.
MARTIN: Although Republicans, too, have spoken out against that and the need to maintain America's foreign aid budget.
MOORE: Well, some of them have. But look. I mean, I happen to think that - I'll just give you one example that we talked a lot about. There's about $50 billion of foreign development aid that has gone to Africa over the last 30 or 40 years. And there's just very little evidence that that has led to development in these countries.
But I'll tell you one - being on the campaign trail with Donald Trump, a lot of Americans say wait a minute, we've got areas in the country like the Appalachian area that are burned out and that have not had much development. Why are we spending money in Africa when we can't do it here at home?
MARTIN: One more brief question.
MARTIN: How does the president then sell this to Republicans who are divided on it?
MOORE: I think he has to say, look, we have to come together as a party. We've got to get this budget done. A budget is really the blueprint of all of the priorities of the party. You know, it's going to be a challenge, Rachel. I mean, it's going to be a challenge whether he can bring all the Republicans together 'cause I don't anticipate there will be too many Democrats who would support this budget.
MARTIN: Stephen Moore, he's the director of the Project for Economic Growth at The Heritage Foundation, former economic adviser to now President Trump. Thanks so much.
MOORE: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.