The formal unveiling of the White House budget is a time-honored Washington ritual usually composed of a Rose Garden ceremony and a presidential tour around the country. The Trump administration has taken a very different approach.
As the Trump administration’s 2018 budget was released in Washington on Tuesday, President Donald J. Trump was half way around the globe, preparing for a visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday.
The White House says this was a scheduling coincidence. Some congressional Republicans, however, wonder if it’s a sign the president doesn’t intend to spend much political capital on what is a controversial budget plan unveiled amidst a slew of investigations and uncertainty.
“It’ll face a tough sled over here,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R., Ky.), a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said of the Trump budget.
Nonetheless the budget proposal, boldly titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” is a detailed, significant and long-awaited statement of the Trump administrations intentions and ambitions.
The budget reduces overall federal spending by trillions of dollars over 10 years while leaving Social Security and Medicare alone, increasing military spending and cutting taxes. The plan claims to balance the budget in 10 years through deep cuts in domestic and safety-net spending, especially in Medicaid.
“It probably is the most conservative budget that we’ve had under a Republican or Democrat administration in decades,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, the caucus of conservative Republican House members.
“Meals on Wheels, even for some of us who are considered to be fiscal hawks, may be a bridge too far,” Mr. Meadows said, referring to one popular program slated for cuts in the budget.
The proposed budget makes deep cuts in programs that have become important to voters considered core Trump supports – white working-class voters hard hit by lost manufacturing jobs and the Great Recession, especially in rural areas.
Medicaid spending, which Trump promised to spare as a candidate, would be reduced $800 billion over the next decade.
The president would cut the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, by $193 billion over a decade, a reduction of about 30 per cent from current levels. SNAP is the current version of what was once called the “food stamps” program.
All domestic spending except for the military and homeland security would be cut by $57 billion, which is around 10 per cent, over the next decade. Overall, the proposed cuts in safety-net spending would total more than one trillion dollars over the next decade.
There is, however, a new $19 billion for a paid family leave program for new parents backed by the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. The budget also contains $1.6 billion to start building a wall on the Mexican border.
The economic assumptions supporting the new budget plan instantly raised bipartisan eyebrows. The administration, for example, projects an average growth rate of 3 per cent over the coming decade while the Federal Reserve and the Congressional Budget Office estimate the average growth rate will be less than 2 percent. The budget assumes a low 2 per cent inflation rate and an unemployment rate of 4.8 per cent.
“Based on what we know about this budget, the good news — the only good news — is that it was likely to be roundly rejected by members of both parties here in the Senate, just as the last budget was,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., NY) said on the Senate floor.
Part of the ritual of the budget dance in Washington, of course, is the opposition party declaring the president’s budget to be “DOA — dead on arrival.”
This year that sentiment has more bipartisan support.
The formal budget is at best a blueprint that guides negotiations even when a popular president’s own party controls Congress.
Though Trump does have a GOP Congress to work with, his approval ratings are at historic lows and he is dogged by the investigations of a Special Counsel and several congressional committees. Just as important for the budget, the prospects of health care and tax legislation are entirely uncertain.
At this point, it isn’t clear how much of a priority the administration’s new budget is to the president himself.