Trump(eting) the Budget
What should we expect from the President's first budget plan?
Weekly Wastebasket | Volume XXII No.20
The first full budget of the Trump Administration is expected to be released on Tuesday.
This will be the version – with thousands of pages of text, numbers, and charts – that expands upon the 62-page skinny budget that was released back on March 17. It’s particularly important because the first full budget of any president gives the public the first truly detailed picture of how the administration wants to prioritize and govern.
If you recall, the Trump skinny budget was emaciated even compared to its immediate predecessors. President Obama’s weighed in at 140 pages and President Bush’s was 175. Both included budget numbers for mandatory programs (two-thirds of overall federal spending) and revenue and spending projections for ten years. President Trump’s only included spending estimates for the discretionary budget and only for fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
"Every President’s budget is pretty much declared dead on arrival, [but] this one might be deader than most."
We have been anxiously awaiting seeing the meat of the detail on the skin-and-bones previews. Additionally, the week before a President’s budget request is released there is usually a steady drip of budget details so that the Administration controls the narrative. This week there have been drips of information to be sure, but not about the budget.
We know the budget will add one ship (nine total) to what the previous administration had planned for FY18. Transportation Secretary Chao declared the Gateway Project on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to be “an absolute priority.” According to budget documents obtained by the Washington Post, 22 programs at the Department of Education will get the axe and some of the savings will go into charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. The total cut to the Department of Education is said to be $9.2 billion which hews closely to what was in the skinny budget. But that is about all the detail we have.
If the skinny budget numbers track for the rest of the federal government – and there’s no reason to think they don’t – then there are going be some legislative fights in the administration’s future. Members of the Appropriations Committee and even the Senate Majority Leader have been quick to point out that they write the spending bills. And Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) has already declared that he thinks the entire government will operate under a full-year continuing resolution for fiscal year 2018. Every President’s budget is pretty much declared dead on arrival, this one might be deader than most. But writing off the entire appropriations process in mid-May is unprecedented.
We hope lawmakers dig into the budget and ask themselves questions about the programs they want to restore. Are they duplicative, like the Denali Commission? Are the programs failing to deliver the intended results? Are they outdated, like the Essential Air Service? Or lack priorities like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ civil works program? Instead of reflexively restoring funding to various programs, lawmakers should evaluate the administration’s justification for making the cuts and come up with their argument in response to restore them. “Because we’ve always funded it” is not a justification.
This budget cycle is way behind and getting it done will be a heavy lift. We anxiously await the first budget to see what is proposed, what gets cut and boosted, and what gimmicks are employed. ◻
Quote of the Week:
"[Tax reform] will have to be revenue-neutral. We have a $20 trillion dollar debt."
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Bloomberg Politics.