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White House proposes $4.7 trillion Budget for fiscal 2020

Trump's outline would sharply cut spending on safety-net programs

Kate Davidson | WSJ 

Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump

The Trump administration on Monday proposed a $4.7 trillion budget that would sharply reduce spending on safety-net and discretionary programs, while effectively exempting the Pentagon from strict funding caps set to take effect in fiscal year 2020.

Though Congress isn’t expected to adopt the plan, the document lays out the White House’s starting point for discussions in the months ahead over spending priorities, including a request for a big increase in outlays for a wall at the nation’s southern border.

In all, the president’s plan would widen the federal budget deficit to $1.1 trillion in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. It says that partly based on growth assumptions much faster than many independent forecasters expect, the federal budget would be balanced by 2034.

That is red ink for a longer period of time than earlier proposed and an example of a fading focus on budget deficits in Washington. In its first budget two years ago, the White House said it would eliminate the deficit by 2028. Last year, the budget deficit grew by 28% to $873 billion.

To reach a balanced budget over the long run, the White House proposed $2.7 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. A senior administration official said Monday that amounted to more spending cuts over the next 10 years than any administration has ever before proposed, not adjusting for inflation.

That includes reducing the overall level of nondefense spending by 5% next year below current federal spending caps, a nearly $30 billion reduction.

It also proposes to squeeze $22 billion of spending next year out of safety-net programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid, accumulating to $327 billion over the next decade. To achieve that, the proposal calls for work requirements for these and other programs, the senior administration official said.

Some other categories are going up. The budget proposes to increase military spending by 5%, to $750 billion next year from $716 billion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. It pitches increased spending on artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons and more for veteran’s health care.

The White House is seeking to get around limits placed on both defense and nondefense spending by boosting military money through an emergency war fund that is not subject to those caps, called the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, or OCO. Both Democrats and Republicans have decried that strategy as a budget gimmick.

A lightning rod in the plan is a request for $8.6 billion for new barriers along the southern U.S. border, including $5 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and $3.6 billion for the Defense Department’s military-construction budget.

The president’s blueprint would also provide additional funding to boost manpower at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, and it proposes policy changes to end so-called sanctuary cities.

In any year, a president’s budget request serves mostly as a marker of top priorities, rather than a guide followed by lawmakers as they write the spending bills that fund the government.

Spending bills need 60 votes to clear the Senate, so they generally require bipartisan support. And lawmakers have their own priorities that don’t always match those of the president’s wish list. With Democrats now in control of the House, the budget blueprint is likely to have less influence.

Congress must reach a new budget deal by Sept. 30 to avoid automatic spending cuts that take effect in fiscal year 2020.

The president’s request Monday for additional funds for barrier construction—more than six times what Congress allocated for fiscal year 2019—presaged more political sparring over Mr. Trump’s long-promised Unhappy that Congress wouldn’t allocate $5.7 billion in wall funding for the current fiscal year, Mr. Trump late last year withdrew support for a bipartisan Senate deal extending funding levels until February, which triggered a 35-day government shutdown.

Mr. Trump ultimately agreed to end the shutdown and signed a spending bill that allocated $1.38 billion for barrier funding the rest of this fiscal year. He also declared a national emergency on the border that he said would enable him to pull together $6.7 billion from the military and other sources for new barrier construction, although that declaration has invited legal and legislative challenges.

Democrats on Sunday blasted the latest funding request. In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said the money allocated for a would be better spent on education or workforce development. They also warned Mr. Trump against setting up another spending fight over border security.

“Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government,” they said. “The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again. We hope he learned his lesson.”

The $8.6 billion request for barrier funding would enable the Trump administration to complete its plans for new or replacement barriers for 722 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, an administration official said Sunday. Of that, 122 miles of barriers are complete or under construction, the official said. The southern border is about 1,991 miles in length overall.

Separately, the proposal would also restore $3.6 billion in funding for military construction that the president tapped as part of his emergency declaration, the official said.

The Wall Street Journal

First Published: Tue, March 12 2019. 03:21 IST