Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Trump budget cometh -- May 18, 2017 column


In a time of nonstop surprises in Washington, we’re about to experience a reassuringly familiar ritual.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration will deliver to Congress the president’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018 – and it will land with a thud.

“Dead on arrival,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in March.

Graham was reacting to Trump’s preliminary, so-called “skinny budget,” with massive hikes in defense and deep cuts in foreign aid and the State Department, along with other domestic programs.

Declaring the president’s budget dead is part of the familiar scenario on Capitol Hill.  

“We generally – no matter who the president is – we don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the president’s budget,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Bloomberg News Tuesday.

The president’s budget does serve a purpose. As a blueprint of where he wants to bulk up or starve programs, it’s worth more than a thousand impulsive tweets about his values.

As a political document, it lets him say he has delivered on campaign promises – and blame Congress if his proposals go nowhere.

Trump’s first four months in the White House have been a brag, bumble and blame festival. His “America first” campaign has devolved into a “Trump first” presidency that has left in its wake disappointment, if not yet disillusionment, among long-suffering supporters.

“They are in a downward spiral right now,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said of the White House.

In Trump’s self-centered world, though, he’s always the victim.
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately,” he told the graduating class at the Coast Guard Academy Wednesday, “especially by the media. No politician in history – and I say this with great surety – has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Trump and his chief strategist Steve Bannon want to “deconstruct” Washington. To that end, the budget reportedly will call for $800 billion in entitlement cuts over 10 years, including to Medicaid, envision fantastic economic growth of 3 percent a year, and result in a balanced budget in 10 years.  

But it’s a starting point, not a road map.

“We share some of his priorities,” McConnell said. He and other Republicans favor spending more on defense, but they insist tax cuts must be paid for.

Tax cuts “will have to be revenue-neutral,” McConnell said.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan proposed higher defense spending, tax cuts and reductions in dozens of domestic programs aimed at shrinking the size of the federal government. Congress went along with about 60 percent of the proposed spending cuts, but the national debt still soared.

There already is push back on Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, public education, the arts, and safety net programs.

For example, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of NIH funding, said at a hearing Wednesday he was “very proud” Congress approved a $2 billion increase, to $34.1 billion, in NIH funding in 2017. Trump had sought a $1 billion cut.

Cole and other lawmakers plan to fight Trump’s proposed $5.8 billion cut in NIH funding for fiscal 2018 as well.

With crises du jour from the White House dominating the news and Congress, Trump’s agenda seems to be slipping away.

His much-promised tax cut is somewhere over the rainbow, along with the $1 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. A GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare finally passed the House, but the Senate is proceeding slowly.

McConnell pointedly said he’d like less drama from the White House, although that seems unlikely, given the personality of the man in the Oval Office.

Still, the Justice Department’s appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller III as special counsel overseeing the investigation into the Russian involvement in the election may tamp down the chaos.

In another ritual of Washington, Republican leaders will be working against the clock to wrap up budget negotiations and avoid a government shutdown when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

That’s a heavy lift, especially with the government running up against the debt ceiling this fall as well.

So watch for Republicans to ignore most of Trump’s budget proposals. He’ll win a few victories – and blame others for his defeats.

©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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