Trump 2020 budget plan includes funding boost for military and border wall, cuts elsewhere

By – The Washington Times – Monday, March 11, 2019

President Trump’s $4.7 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2020 aims to get the federal government toward balance over 15 years through major spending cuts and sustained economic growth while employing some gimmickry and markedly optimistic assumptions.

In other words, Mr. Trump’s proposal is likely destined for a congressional trash heap, in line with those of his predecessors. Some lawmakers already appear prepared to move on and try to make headway on the 2020 federal budgeting process on their own.

The administration’s plan calls for $2.7 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years and assumes that the economy will grow by about 3 percent over the next decade — well above many independent forecasts.

Federal deficits would top $1 trillion for the next three years before gradually declining to about $200 billion by 2029 — meaning the plan wouldn’t balance over a 10-year period, a standard measuring stick for federal budget proposals.

The White House said the plan is a legitimate effort to try to rein in a sea of federal red ink and make needed investments in the military, and that it’s Congress that has shirked its duty on the spending front in recent years.

“Washington has a spending problem,” said Russell Vought, the acting White House budget director. “Congress just hasn’t been willing to play ball, even though they have the power of the purse.”

The plan provides a boost of about $34 billion for the Defense Department, to $750 billion next year, while including significant cuts to other federal departments such as the Environmental Protection Agency and domestic social programs.

The budget envisions a complete repeal of Obamacare and an extension of the Republican tax cut law, which the White House says is necessary to keep the economy booming.

It also includes $8.6 billion for construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall. That is well above the $5.7 billion he asked for during the recent government shutdown standoff and could portend another showdown ahead of Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2020.

The White House said $1.9 trillion of the cuts would come from mandatory spending programs such as Medicare and Medicaid — the key drivers of an ever-increasing $22 trillion national debt — through measures such as lowering prescription drug costs for seniors and shifting Medicaid toward a block grant system for states.

But Mr. Vought said the plan does not include structural changes for Medicare beneficiaries and that spending on the program will rise every year by “healthy margins.”

The budget also includes steep cuts for some major departments, including a $2.8 billion decrease — or 31 percent — in funding for the EPA and an approximately $13 billion cut, or 23 percent, for the State Department and other international programs.

The budget also assumes about $500 billion in savings over 10 years by addressing waste, fraud and abuse in health care and another $207 billion from changes to student loan programs.

Conservatives said cutting spending outside of the Pentagon is a step in the right direction.

“Washington should spend less, not more,” said Rep. Tom Graves, Georgia Republican. “The simple truth is that the road to get our fiscal house in order isn’t an easy one.”

To achieve the boost in defense spending, the White House is proposing to more than double the amount of money in a special overseas war fund for next year. Those funds aren’t subject to the budget caps that Congress has had to overcome for nearly a decade.

Mr. Vought said the president can’t shortchange the military, even as he tries to move the federal government toward balance.

“He’s the commander in chief, and he thinks it’s important to secure the country,” he said. “It’s one of his most basic constitutional responsibilities.”

Democrats dismissed the move as a gimmick.

“The use of a massive budgetary gimmick to hide the true cost of his defense spending request should outrage everyone who claims to care about fiscal responsibility,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat.

Ms. Lowey said the House, Senate and White House need to agree on another framework to increase the spending caps, though the administration said Democrats’ insistence on equivalent increases for defense and domestic spending in past budget deals is a major part of Washington’s fiscal problems.

“We don’t think that that paradigm allows us to be able to get our fiscal house in order,” Mr. Vought said.

House Budget Committee Chairman John A. Yarmuth, Kentucky Republican, said the administration is starting off on the wrong foot for the forthcoming budget and spending negotiations with the proposal it rolled out Monday.

“As we enter into negotiations on spending levels for 2020 and 2021, we are so far apart on our priorities that we have to wonder whether the White House is going to be a serious negotiator,” Mr. Yarmuth told reporters. “And that’s disturbing.”

He said the budget proposal includes some elements Democrats could support, such as efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs, a $200 billion boost for infrastructure and more money to combat the opioid epidemic.

But he said cuts to programs such as Medicaid, education and the EPA more than offset those items.

Fiscal watchdog groups also found the plan lacking.

This year’s presidential budget is “likely even more dead on arrival than most,” said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“The president’s fiscal year 2020 budget promises a new era of ‘MAGAnomics’ and to put ‘Taxpayers First,’” Ms. Alexander said. “Maybe that would be true if by ‘MAGAnomics’ the president meant trillion-dollar deficits and by ‘taxpayers’ he meant Pentagon and defense contractors.”

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