DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (AP) — President Donald Trump unveiled a $1.15 trillion budget Thursday, proposing a far-reaching overhaul of federal spending that would slash many domestic programs to finance a big increase for the military and make a down payment on a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Trump’s plan seeks to upend Washington with cuts to long-promised campaign targets like foreign aid and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as strong congressional favorites such as medical research, help for homeless veterans and community development grants.
“A budget that puts America first must make the safety of our people its number one priority — because without safety, there can be no prosperity,” Trump said in a message accompanying his proposed budget that was titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.”
Read the document: “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again”
The president’s proposed budget, however, is more of a blueprint than a binding document. The real power of the purse rests with Congress.
Already, lawmakers have found plenty to dislike: Fiscal conservatives wanted to see cuts to benefit programs, defense hawks want more military spending and Democrats reject the deep cuts to domestic programs.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee has voiced his support of the president’s budget.
“President Trump’s budget is a solid step towards addressing the gross over-spending that is driving our national debt,” Lee said in a statement. “Many of the programs eliminated by Trump’s budget can and should be financed by state and local entities, and Trump should be commended for making some of the tough calls necessary to move our country in a direction of solvency, with the principle of federalism in mind.”
That leaves Trump and his Republican majority in Congress facing weeks — if not months — of high-risk political wrangling. Failure to reach an agreement could result in a government shutdown, an outcome that cost the government and economy billions of dollars in 2013.
What’s in it
Trump’s budget proposal covers discretionary spending. That’s the roughly $1 trillion portion of the $4 trillion that the federal government spends that Congress must approve every year by passing specific spending legislation.
The majority of federal spending is in benefit programs, like Social Security and Medicare. Also called “entitlements” or “mandatory” programs, they can only be changed by revising the underlying laws that created them.
Trump’s discretionary budget would boost Pentagon spending by $54 billion — about 10 percent — and make a down payment on his promised border wall, while cutting domestic programs and foreign aid by an equal amount.
Twelve of the government’s 15 Cabinet agencies would absorb cuts under the president’s proposal. The biggest losers are Agriculture, Labor, State, and the Cabinet-level EPA. The Defense Department, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs are the winners.
“America’s public lands are our national treasures and the President’s budget sends a strong signal that we will protect and responsibly manage these vast areas of our country ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people’,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “Before serving in government, I served on the front lines for 23 years as a military officer. I can say for certain that this budget allows the Interior Department to meet our core mission and also prioritizes the safety and security of the American people.”
Congressional approval is likely to involve a tough fight.
Though many of Trump’s cuts hit conservative targets, like the National Endowment for the Arts and low-income heating assistance programs, others take aim at strong congressional favorites, including medical research, rural school aid and help for homeless veterans.
Before lawmakers can address what to do in 2018, they have to deal with the remainder of this year.
A temporary bill that’s currently funding the government expires at the end of April. To avoid a partial government shutdown on April 29, Congress must pass and Trump must sign a spending bill or, at the very least, an additional extension of current funding levels.
It may be a hard sell. With Republicans holding just 52 votes in the Senate, Democratic voters are needed to reach the 60 vote threshold for passage. While Democrats don’t want to be blamed for shutting down the government, they’re also under pressure from their base to block Trump at every turn. And anything that Democrats would approve is likely to alienate the conservative Republicans in the House.
In May, Trump will present the rest of his budget. It will include the White House outlook for the economy, as well as tax proposals and plans for reducing the deficit.
Economists say tackling the deficit would entail curbs on popular benefit programs, but Trump has repeatedly promised not to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Around the same time, Congress is likely to be working on its own budget. The congressional budget resolution has to be completed in order to accommodate Trump’s promise to overhaul tax laws.
WHAT MAKES IT TRICKIER
All this time, Congress must keep working on spending bills for the 2018 budget year. Known as “appropriations” bills, they deal with the roughly $1 trillion in annual spending covered by the budget that Trump released Thursday.
To avoid another government shutdown crisis, such legislation must pass by Oct. 1.
Congress does not have a good track record of meeting that deadline. Usually what happens is that leaders convene budget talks to avoid a shutdown.
That happened repeatedly during former President Barack Obama’s administration. It’s usually resolved by passing a “continuing resolution” that maintains funding at current levels and avoids a partial shutdown of government operations.
But partisanship can also get in the way, precipitating a crisis.
Written by LISA LERER, Associated Press with additional material provided by the office of Utah Sen. Mike Lee and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
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