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Senior Republican, eyeing Trump budget, worries about U.S. debt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Senate Republican gave a lukewarm welcome to U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget plan, complaining on Wednesday that growing debt was taking the country in “an ominous direction.”

Chairman of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee Mike Enzi (R-WY) waits for order to be restored as protestors interrupt the markup of the FY2018 Budget reconciliation legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 28, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi opened a hearing on the Republican president’s proposal with a broad attack on what he said was the growing, misguided view that U.S. debt and deficits do not matter.

“We’re in a credit-card Congress,” Enzi said, noting the United States would soon face annual government deficits of over $1 trillion. “We are clearly headed in an ominous direction.”

Trump’s plan is highly unlikely to become law in the face of opposition from Democrats, who control the House of Representatives.

Democrats at the hearing focused on Trump’s proposed cuts to social programs, making clear they would continue to emphasize them in the 2020 presidential election campaign.

The budget proposal “practices the Robin Hood principle in reverse,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, budget panel member and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. “It takes from the poor and working families and gives to the very wealthy.”

In his $4.7 trillion budget unveiled on Monday, Trump called for overhauling social programs that help poor and elderly Americans, while boosting military spending and funding a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The Trump administration has said the plan represents an attempt to be fiscally responsible at a time of trillion-dollar budget deficits.

Tax cuts were a priority for the Trump White House and congressional Republicans in recent years, rather than deficit reduction. The U.S. deficit is expected to run to $900 billion in 2019 and the national debt has ballooned to $22 trillion.

Enzi blamed both Republicans and Democrats for the trend toward trillion-dollar deficits. The Republican lawmaker cited a report from the Congressional Budget Office that the public debt is expected to reach 78 percent of gross domestic product this year.

Russell Vought, acting White House budget director, defended Trump’s plan, saying the president was requesting more spending cuts than any previous administration.

House Democrats are working on their own budget proposal that would be a blueprint for setting spending levels.

The party is divided over costly ideas like a “Medicare for All” universal healthcare proposal and the “Green New Deal” to eliminate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions within a decade.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney