White House

The quirky, the odd and the baffling in the Trump budget shuffle

The president wants to redesign Air Force One, welcome back infrastructure week and set up a new tobacco agency.

Air Force One

A budget book reveal of a makeover for Air Force One. An end to the annual September spending splurge and its millions spent on lobster tails, crab and tubas. Putting a leash on those beloved bomb-sniffing dog teams at airports.

Those are some of the odds and ends in President Donald Trump’s new fiscal 2021 budget request, tucked between deep cuts to domestic spending and safety net programs and other items on the White House wish list. Here’s a roundup of this year’s quirkiest budget nuggets:

Air Force One’s new paint job

A Pentagon budget book that broke down costs of major acquisition programs included a rendering of Air Force One sporting the new red, white and blue paint scheme that Trump revealed to ABC in June. Much like the preview, the image in the budget book showed a plane with a white top, red stripe and dark blue belly.

The Air Force requested $800.9 million for the new Air Force One in fiscal 2021, an increase from the $757.9 million it is spending in fiscal 2020 on the plane.

Beyond merely transporting the president, Air Force One has become the symbol of U.S. executive power overseas. The current light blue paint scheme, which Trump has criticized, dates back to the Kennedy administration. “The baby blue doesn’t fit with us,” he said last year.

Targeting booze, lobster and tubas

The Trump administration wants to end “use it or lose it” week. Each September, with the fiscal year winding down, federal agencies go on a spending spree to blow their leftover budgets on anything from booze and lobster tails to tubas and golf carts, according to the White House. One of every nine dollars spent on federal contracts is spent during the last week of the fiscal year.

Now the White House says it’s committing to “closely scrutinizing how [the administration] spends money at the end of the fiscal year, and curtailing wasteful and questionable purchases.”

That’s one piece of Trump’s budgetary plan for cutting federal waste, along with ending “duplicative” programs and other efforts. In reality, lavish expenditures like seafood and workout machines typically represent a microscopic fraction of government spending.

Harvest Boxes back from the dead

The White House won’t stop trying to make Harvest Boxes happen. Trump is once again reviving the idea of replacing some Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits with monthly deliveries of nonperishable foods like pasta, peanut butter and canned fruit.

Between Harvest Boxes, stricter work requirements and other changes, Trump’s budget plan would shrink SNAP spending by $182 billion over the next decade.

The Harvest Box proposal was widely panned by anti-hunger advocates and rejected by lawmakers the last few times the White House rolled it out. But the administration continues to push for the change, chalking it up to innovation and taxpayer savings.

One official suggested that because there’s a market for meal kit and grocery delivery services among high-income consumers, it’s likely to work for low-income families as well.

Going to the dogs again

The White House is renewing its attempts to eliminate TSA’s 31 Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, some of which include the agency’s beloved bomb-sniffing dogs.

The administration estimates that cutting the VIPR program would save $59 million in annual spending, saying it lacks effective performance measures and “demonstrable results.”

Congress has repeatedly rejected cutting VIPR teams, which Trump’s budgets have called for in the past. Last year, appropriators even bumped funding up so that DHS could sustain an additional 50 canine teams.

CDC cuts despite a coronavirus outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, key to the government’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus and Trump’s efforts to end domestic HIV transmissions, would see its budget cut by 18.6 percent. CDC’s discretionary budget authority would be reduced by $1.28 billion for fiscal 2021.

The administration is trying to refocus the agency around responding to crises like the opioid epidemic and halting the spread of infectious diseases. Trump’s budget plan would cut CDC funding for chronic disease prevention by 34 percent and consolidate efforts addressing heart disease, diabetes and other conditions into a single block grant for states.

Trump caves on Yucca Mountain

Trump is adopting President Barack Obama’s approach to the politically tricky question of where to put the nuclear waste accumulating at power plants around the country.

After promising in his previous three budgets to open the stalled Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, Trump is now essentially conceding defeat in the face of widespread opposition in a state he hopes to win in November. His budget promises to “not stand idly by given the stalemate on Yucca Mountain” and to work with states to find a new location.

Giving up on Yucca Mountain could help Trump’s political standing in Nevada, and he made clear that the state’s opposition was behind the reversal. “Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you!” Trump tweeted last week, previewing the change in his budget.

But abandoning Yucca means nuclear waste will continue to pile up around the country, including in several other key electoral battlegrounds. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, as of the end of 2018, more than 81,500 metric tons of spent uranium are stored at power plants and defense sites in 35 states, with Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan all in the top 10.

A new federal agency just for tobacco

The Trump administration is proposing to set up a new regulatory agency with authority over tobacco products, replacing the FDA as overseer of the industry.

White House domestic policy adviser Joe Grogan last year called tobacco regulation a “huge waste of time” for FDA and said the agency should be more focused on finding new medicines. But public health advocates and critics of e-cigarettes that appeal to youths say the FDA’s role has been defined by Congress and it’s one of the agency’s most important health care missions.

More money for (some) future technologies

Trump’s budget goes big on artificial intelligence and other next-generation technologies, for both the Pentagon and civilian uses. But it also proposes to eliminate the arm of the Energy Department that has funded advanced research in technologies like solar, wind, biofuels and batteries.

The cuts show how Trump wants to go big on developing advanced technology — but his administration also has a selective idea about what kind of tech it supports.

Trump still thinks it’s infrastructure week

Trump promised $1 trillion in infrastructure spending as a candidate (first he doubled Hillary Clinton’s $275 billion proposal, and then he later doubled that). In 2018, he came out with a $1.5 trillion plan which went nowhere. Last year, he talked infrastructure-happy Democrats up to $2 trillion — then shouted them out of his office when they came back to hammer out details.

Now his budget contains a $1 trillion plan, which is mostly made up of a routine reauthorization of highway and transit programs — except the standard time frame has been doubled to 10 years, and it’s paid for by a fictitious funding source called “contract authority” that’s more akin to writing a check regardless of whether there’s money in the bank to pay for it or not.

Trump’s $810 billion, 10-year proposal included within his budget would be a 33 percent increase over the most recent surface transportation bill, which provided $305 billion for highways and transit programs over five years.

Adam Cancryn, Stephanie Beasley, Brianna Ehley, Jacqueline Feldscher, Nick Juliano, Bob King, Leah Nylen, Sarah Owermohle, Nancy Scola, Tanya Snyder and Eric Wolff contributed to this report.