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Trump’s Budget Follows Flurry of Lobbying From Fossil Fuel, Charter School and Other Interests

Weapons and military tech manufacturers have spent $255 million on lobbying since 2017.

President Donald Trump addresses a meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in the State Dining Room at the White House March 4, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Industries and organizations that stand to gain from the budget spend millions of dollars lobbying the U.S. government each year.

From cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education, to a 5 percent increase in the military budget, the Fiscal Year 2020 budget will delight economic conservatives wanting cuts to social spending and dismay liberals aiming to preserve environmental regulation and welfare programs.

While the budget will likely gain no traction on Capitol Hill, the document unambiguously presents the priorities of the administration. It calls for a 31 percent cut in the EPA, an 11 percent cut at the Department of Energy, and a 12 percent cut at the Department of Education.

At the Department of Energy, a 70 percent decrease in funds for the department’s office of renewable energy coincides with increased investment in nuclear energy, coal and fossil fuels. The budget for the Office of Fossil Energy Research and Development will increase by $60 million, and the Office of Nuclear Energy’s budget will surge by $67 million.

The proposed cuts have received condemnation from liberal environmental groups such as the League of Conservation Voters, which spent tens of millions to elect Democrats in 2018

“This isn’t a budget for a better America, it’s a budget for a sicker, dirtier America,” said Carol M. Browner, board chair of the League of Conservation Voters and a former EPA administrator.

Important players in the nuclear energy and fossil fuel industries have spent millions of dollars on lobbying throughout the Trump administration. The Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade association for the nuclear industry, spent $4 million on direct and subcontracted lobbying over the past two years. Energy corporations with major holdings in nuclear, such as Duke Energy and Southern Co., spent nearly $12 million and $25 million respectively on lobbying over the same period. Furthermore, ExxonMobil, the oil company with the largest lobbying presence in Washington, has spent $22.5 million on lobbying during the Trump administration, though those numbers remained at a similar level throughout most of the Obama administration.

Lobbying by the coal industry, however, has increased under Trump after years of decline. The industry spent $11.4 million lobbying the government in the past two years.

Another major aspect of Trump’s budget is a $33.3 billion increase in the military budget. Weapons and military tech manufacturers have spent $255 million on lobbying since 2017, the fifth highest industry. Among the top corporate lobbying outfits are Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, spending $32 million, $28 million and $29 million respectively. These and other government contractors are sure to see many opportunities in the swelling military budget, which includes greater funding for modernizing nuclear weapons and the creation of a U.S. Space Force.

Other significant cuts in the proposed budget include a 12 percent cut for the Department of Education, leaving the department’s budget at $62 billion. The budget states it provides “an unprecedented level of resources to promoting school choice,” which includes $5 billion tax credits per year for families who place their children in “State-defined public or private education options.” The budget also provides $500 million to open, expand and finance public charter schools.

Pro-charter school groups are modest spenders under the Trump administration. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools spent $516,000 on lobbying in the first two years of the Trump presidency, compared to $380,000 in the last two years of the Obama administration. Another pro-charter group, the Charter Schools Action Fund, spent $120,000 on lobbying in 2018.

Inversely, labor advocacy group American Federation of Teachers reached record lobbying sums challenging the Trump administration’s education reforms, spending nearly $3.6 million in the administration’s first two years.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that Education Sec. Betsy DeVos “once again seeks to divert funding for private purposes in the name of ‘choice’” in the president’s budget.

Conservative groups lauded Trump’s budget. The conservative economics policy group FreedomWorks, which spent a record $1.88 million on lobbying in 2018, said that Trump “has the right mindset regarding his proposed budget for FY 2020, which seeks to cut wasteful spending to tackle the deficit and balance the budget in 15 years.”

Despite the aggressive stance taken to federal spending in Trump’s budget, the proposal faces little hope for success in Congress. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Appropriation, iterated in a statement that Trump’s budget “has no chance of garnering the necessary bipartisan support to become law.”

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