WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump dropped his first full budget plan this week and Republican lawmakers have one message: Thanks, but no thanks.
“The president’s budget as we all know is a recommendation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters this week. “We’ll be taking into account what the president is recommending, but it will not be determinative in every respect.”
McConnell’s comments politely addressed the elephant in the room: Trump’s budget is dead on arrival. Many within the GOP praised the president for taking a stab at reducing discretionary spending and trying to cast a vision for a balanced budget by 2027, but lawmakers ultimately will write their own spending package. Democrats, as expected, uniformly denounced nearly every aspect of the budget blueprint.
But it’s worth reviewing what Trump and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), decided to prioritize.
“This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes,” Mulvaney said. “Too often in Washington we only look at the recipient side: How does the budget affect either those who receive or don’t receive benefits.”
Instead of trying to help as many people as possible through costly federal programs, Mulvaney said administration officials approached the process by asking themselves what they could justify taxpayers funding.
That’s why Trump’s budget boosts spending for defense and border security and cuts just about everything else. The budget asks for about $33 billion more than what President Barack Obama requested for 2017 to pay for military modernization, readiness, and operations. But it requests deep cuts to the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency—32 and 31 percent, respectively.
It also asks for deep cuts to Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Social Security Disability Insurance. Mulvaney said many of those safety-net programs are ineffective and waste taxpayer dollars.
“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs,” he said. “We’re not going to measure compassion by the amount of money that we spend, but by the number of people that we help.”
Trump’s budget also reflects his previous commitments to pro-lifers by defunding Planned Parenthood and redirecting about $500 million to community healthcare centers.
Even though Republicans will write their own budget and make compromises with Democrats to get it passed, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., expressed gratitude for Trump’s new approach: “We have a president who, for the first time in eight years, said, ‘Let’s actually balance the budget.’ I think that’s refreshing.”
Congress has only passed a balanced budget four out of the last 48 years.
Policy experts said Trump’s budget may balance, but it makes false assumptions to get there.
“The administration’s budget plan reflects wishful thinking, not a serious effort to address the long-run fiscal imbalance,” wrote Alan Viard of the American Enterprise Institute, who predicted the budget would not balance in 10 years as Mulvaney claims.
Viard noted the proposal shows no reduction in federal revenue, even though the administration issued an outline last month promising steep tax cuts. It also estimates a 10 percent larger U.S. economy by 2027—highly unlikely, Viard said.
This is only the first step in a long process that most likely will culminate in a congressional showdown in late September. Lawmakers on both sides will have to come to an agreement on the appropriations process for fiscal year 2018, since Republicans will need Democratic support to avoid a Senate filibuster.