Trump scales back request for stiff budget cuts

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Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s administration has scrambled at the 11th hour to rewrite its budget request to reflect Congress’ newly sealed budget deal. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The Trump administration is still urging severe austerity for some arms of the federal government.

The White House released a decade-long budget request Monday that lays out $3.6 trillion in deficit reduction while calling for hundreds of billions more to be pumped into the Pentagon.

The Trump administration is proposing deeper cuts to safety net programs — including Medicare, which the president on the campaign trail swore he wouldn’t touch — to help fund what it calls a “more lethal” military.

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But the White House’s request is a jumble of mixed messages, since the Trump administration was forced to do some fast accounting after lawmakers on Friday cleared a massive two-year spending deal, H.R. 1892 (115).

President Donald Trump’s revised budget would pour more cash into domestic programs across the federal government, even calling for an increase to the State Department, which the administration proposed to slash by 27 percent in the original document.

The White House is telling Congress just how the president wants to see lawmakers divvy up the hundreds of billions of dollars in new funding authority, while at the same time encouraging them not to spend all that cash.

“These are spending caps. They are not spending floors,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re going to show how you can run the government without spending all of it. That will be our 2019 budget.”

The requested defense build-up appears to be the biggest single shift in Trump’s budget compared to his first year, when his Pentagon proposal was panned by Congress’ defense hawks, who sought much higher sums.

To help pay for it, Trump’s budget office has requested scraping more from other social programs, like food stamps, and proposing changes to Medicare.

The federal health program is one of the fastest-growing drivers of the national debt. To help stem that rise, Trump’s budget proposes a slew of vague reforms including improvements to “drug pricing and payment policies” and “government-imposed provider burdens.”

Last year, Medicare was mentioned just 10 times in Trump’s budget. This year, the program is mentioned more than 100 times.

The proposal is a victory for Mulvaney, who has begged the president to tackle entitlement spending, including Medicare, since their early days at the White House.

The budget also requests new — though vague — welfare reforms like: “Get noncustodial parents to work,” which it projects to save $96 million.

The bones of the budget are largely the same as last year. The portion that does not take into account extra spending under the new budget caps would call for slashing funding for housing assistance and student aid while limiting payouts for farmers and people on disability insurance.

“Just like every American family, the Budget makes hard choices: Fund what we must, cut where we can, and reduce what we borrow,” Mulvaney said in a statement.

The administration has also prioritized border security — proposing to hire roughly 1,000 more patrol agents and immigration officers than its previous budget.

Afternoon briefings are scheduled explaining proposed funding for the departments of Education, Energy and Defense, as well as NASA.

Mulvaney will then elaborate on the overall proposal during testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday and before the House Budget Committee on Wednesday.

In a stark shift from Trump’s first-year budget, Republican lawmakers are likely to embrace the plan’s base recommendation for $716 billion in defense spending — the same level Congress signed into last week’s budget deal.

The fiscal plan also recommends Congress buck calls for more spending on social programs, while suggesting lawmakers throw extra cash at things like infrastructure investment, “so if it does get spent, at least it gets spent in the right places,” Mulvaney said.

The Trump administration has scrambled at the eleventh hour to rewrite its budget request to reflect Congress’ newly sealed budget deal, essentially forced to present two visions of federal funding. OMB officials had only three days to decide how to divvy up an extra $63 billion in nondefense spending for fiscal 2019.

“This may be the most complicated budget anyone’s ever going to do,” Mulvaney said on Sunday.

The proposal asks for a total of $18 billion over fiscal years 2018 and 2019 for a border wall, while assuming there will be agreement on how to handle the legal status of young undocumented immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The budget again reflects Trump’s businessman-like commitment to shrinking the federal bureaucracy, for the first time making public the White House’s plans for trimming staff and operations across the federal government.

Those “workforce reduction” plans — which rely on hiring freezes, buyouts and stripping protections that make it easier to fire workers — are the result of nearly a year of back-and-forth between OMB and agencies. Some departments, like Education, have already starting giving workers incentives to leave, while the Agriculture Department has made clear it will only be reorganizing, not cutting employees.

The plan is also expected to lay out a new performance bonus system for workers deemed successful, according to multiple reports. The new system would save billions, according to USA Today, by reducing automatic pay increases.

The Trump administration has dwelled most on the $200 billion the core plan requests for infrastructure investment over the next 10 years. But that proposal differs little from what the White House requested last year. And the president has conceded that the federal share of his infrastructure vision is “not a large amount” on its own.

Last year, Trump’s first budget arrived with a thud on Capitol Hill, proposing the most extreme drawdown in federal spending in decades. In it, Trump asked Congress to gut programs with decades-old bipartisan support, like scientific research and education, while proposing lawmakers take an ax to safety net programs and foreign aid.

Amid crisis-to-crisis budgeting on Capitol Hill, though, there has been little fanfare in the lead up to this latest budget proposal.

“The president’s budget is just a nice book,” Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) said in an interview. “It’s good to know where their priorities are, but the ones that make a difference are the ones here.”

Victoria Guida contributed to this report.



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