The Defense Department’s budget will increase $574 billion.
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His pie-in-the-sky plan breaks campaign promises and is useless as a guide for Congress.
The best way to think about the fiscal 2018 budget released by the White House is as a Trump political campaign rally on paper.
The budget was clearly developed to make a statement to President Trump’s base of voters in the hope that they will see it as him keeping his campaign promises. According to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, the budget will be in surplus in 10 years, construction will start on the wall between the U.S. and Mexico, there will be more money for enforcing immigration laws, and there will be much more for the Pentagon. Meanwhile, wasteful government spending will be cut and taxes will be reduced.
You can almost envision Trump tossing Make America Great Again hats into the audience as he reads from his budget to a cheering crowd of supporters.
To a certain extent, there’s nothing wrong with this. Every president’s budget is at least partly a political document, so the fact that Trump tries to make a strong ideological statement with his not only isn’t a surprise, it should have been anticipated.
But the new Trump budget is so unabashedly political that you can’t help but ask whether the administration even considered that what it proposes is also supposed to provide practical guidance to the House and Senate as they consider actual spending and taxing legislation for the coming year.
The president’s budget is supposed to be a plan for governing as well as a political campaign cheer, and that’s where the Trump 2018 completely fails.
First, the Trump budget projects steadily reduced deficits over the next 10 years that are based on fantasy and prayers rather than solid economics. Chief among these is the administration’s contention that the economy will grow by 3% a year over the next decade, a forecast that is wildly optimistic compared with what the Federal Reserve and others are saying is likely.
Second, the Trump budget includes a veritable witches’ brew of gimmicks. They have been used before, but they haven’t been used together since Ronald Reagan was president and then-OMB chief David Stockman had to resort to budget sleight of hand to project a declining deficit.
In addition to the rosy scenario of 3% annual GDP growth, the Trump budget relies on the old standby of cutting unspecified waste, fraud and abuse (“reduce improper payments governmentwide” by $142 billion over the next 10 years) and a “magic asterisk” of additional unspecified cuts in domestic appropriations of 2% a year every year through 2027 that supposedly will save $1.4 trillion.
Third, the Trump 2018 budget proposes spending cuts that Congress — Republicans and Democrats — are virtually certain to reject out of hand. This includes cuts in Social Security disability and farm subsidies, plus more than $600 billion in Medicaid reductions over 10 years that apparently is in addition to the $880 billion in cuts the House passed several weeks ago in the American Health Care Act.
So while it might work as a campaign event, the Trump 2018 budget flops big time as a real policy proposal and practical guide for Congress. Its economics are pie-in-the-sky, its numbers are speculative at best, and its spending cut proposals are unlikely to ever be considered seriously.
But it’s also not clear whether the Trump budget will actually work as a political rallying cry.
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Although the administration will try to emphasize the big picture proposals — the wall, the Pentagon, the projected surplus — many of the individual plans such as the cuts in Medicaid and the Social Security disability program break promises the president made during the campaign. Trump voters will also feel many of the smaller Trump-proposed spending cuts, and congressional Democrats are certain to make political life miserable for any Republicans who support them.
It didn’t take long for the Trump 2018 budget to disappear inside the Beltway. Less than two days after the details emerged, congressional Republicans had all but stopped talking about it. With the president overseas and not part of the rollout, and no one but Mulvaney promoting it, the budget seemed destined to vanish by the end of the week.
That will make the Trump 2018 budget one of the biggest and most rapid failures in recent American history.
Stan Collender is an executive vice president with MSLGROUP in Washington, D.C., and an adjunct professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy of Georgetown University. His blog is published by Forbes.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheBudgetGuy.
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