by Joseph Lawler · March 16, 2017
President Trump is set to submit an “America-first” budget proposal to Congress Thursday, one that would cut deeply into foreign aid and domestic spending to boost military funding, or what Trump’s budget director called “hard power” in a preview of the budget blueprint.
“You had an America-first candidate, you have an America-first budget,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Wednesday in a call with reporters.
The Trump budget to be released Thursday morning is only a request to Congress for funding of federal agencies. It is up to Congress to authorize spending. Unlike typical budgets, Thursday’s document, a “skinny budget,” will not spell out any major policy proposals on taxes or government spending programs, but only spending levels for agencies.
The core of Trump’s plan for fiscal 2018 is to boost defense spending by $54 billion more than the Budget Control Act spending cap of $549 billion, while cutting back the same amount in other areas.
The proposal, which Mulvaney said was drafted to match Trump’s rhetoric, statements and speeches, would shift resources from foreign aid and low-impact parts of the budget to the military, national security and law enforcement. The blueprint also will include funding for the wall along the Mexican border.
“This is a hard power budget,” he said. “It is not a soft power budget.”
Rather than ask Congress for more funds for both the military and for agencies, as former President Barack Obama had done in recent years, the administration’s goal is to add nothing to the deficit. Accordingly, cuts to domestic spending would be needed to offset the increases in defense spending.
That would mean shrinking funding for domestic programs, a small slice of overall government spending, even below the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act. In past years, Obama and Republicans have cut deals to loosen those caps and avoid the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.
While the proposal is sure to be met with apprehension even from Republicans, it will outrage liberals who favor increasing spending on discretionary programs.
Robert Greenstein, the president of the left-of-center Center on Budget Priorities, said that Trump budget policies were shaping up as the “most aggressive Robin Hood-in-reverse by any president in modern U.S. history.”
The roughly $1.1 trillion in spending, called discretionary spending, represents everything the government does outside of servicing the federal debt and funding entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
The non-defense part of that, comprising job training, law enforcement, infrastructure spending and much more, accounts for about one-third of federal spending, and it has been squeezed in recent years. Greenstein noted that, even without Trump’s proposed cuts, it was on track to tie 1999 as the lowest spending as a share of economic output going back to 1962.
Democrats already have raised alarms about reports of some of the cuts Trump is seeking for agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Both parties have raised concerns about the reductions to the State Department, which Mulvaney said would represent a 28 percent spending reduction. Last month, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said a cut of that size would be “dead on arrival” in Congress.
Mulvaney maintained Wednesday that the State Department would be able to fulfill its diplomatic duties under the White House’s budget. The department is losing such a large chunk of funding, he explained, because it happens to disburse foreign aid, which is on the chopping block. That form of “soft power,” used to influence allies and adversaries across the world, he suggested, would be supplanted with greater military spending.
Agencies facing smaller budgets would have great flexibility in how they would implement those spending reductions, Mulvaney said. Consequently, the administration doesn’t have a projection of how many jobs could be cut.
Some agencies, however, would simply face the ax. Major cuts in HUD funding would reflect the White House’s view that many of the department’s programs simply don’t work, Mulvaney said.
Nevertheless, the administration is planning to push a major infrastructure investment package this year, which Mulvaney said would include initiatives aimed at some of the same goals of HUD programs that are being eliminated.