Trump follows Ryan into same dangerous budget trap

Last time the GOP went down this road, the government shut down. This time, they don’t even have Obama to blame.

For all the tough talk, Donald Trump’s new budget could be dubbed “Ryan-Lite.” And if Republicans seem queasy in Congress, it’s because they lived through this movie not long ago and it didn’t end well.

Indeed, just four years ago Speaker Paul Ryan, then chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed almost exactly what Trump wants now: big increases for the military combined with tens of billions in cuts to nondefense programs. The House went along, and within months the whole appropriations process collapsed, setting the stage for a costly government shutdown in the fall of 2013.

Now Trump wants the GOP to try again — only this time he openly substitutes his own ideology for deficit reduction.

With Ryan, the appropriations cuts were always a way to pressure President Barack Obama to make changes Republicans wanted in order to achieve savings from entitlement programs like Medicare. But Obama’s not around to leverage anymore. Trump’s budget is driven more by Steve Bannon than by getting to balance. So where does that leave Republicans in Congress and will they end up negotiating only with themselves?

The answer could make this year’s budget cycle a defining one for the GOP. What do Republicans want from government and how much will they spend to run it effectively?

Does the party of Bob Dole really want to decimate food aid overseas? Wasn’t it President Gerald Ford who championed Community Development Block Grants? Even Ronald Reagan found money for fuel assistance for the poor, why none now? And after years of espousing welfare-to-work, why are Republicans being asked again to cut job training funds?

For sure, some of Trump’s targets are old standbys like the arts and public broadcasting. Round up the usual suspects. But what’s with all the cuts to science programs?

To understand the parallels between Ryan’s numbers and Trump’s, it’s necessary first to go back to the statutory spending caps first enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Going into fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1, 2013, the BCA allowed for $967.5 billion in discretionary spending: about $498 billion for defense and the remaining $469.4 billion for domestic and foreign aid programs. What the Ryan 2014 budget proposed was to alter this balance dramatically so that defense could grow to $552 billion while domestic and foreign aid programs got much less, about $415 billion.

That translated into a $54 billion swing each way, virtually the same as what the White House is now proposing for fiscal 2018.

Trump starts from a higher base: $1.065 trillion compared with $967.5 billion four years ago. But in real dollars adjusted for inflation, that’s not so different. And within this total, both he and Ryan end up at the same place: Defense is promised 57 percent of the total pot.

But as Ryan and his fellow Republicans found out, the pressure on the rest of government can be brutal. By the end of July 2013, a $44.1 billion transportation and housing bill had to be pulled from the House floor because of unrest over the deep cuts. And that was even before GOP leadership had come to grips with still deeper reductions required from labor, health and education programs.

Having witnessed this turmoil firsthand, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) was decidedly noncommittal Thursday in his first comments on Trump’s plan.

“As directed under the Constitution, Congress has the power of the purse,” Frelinghuysen said. “While the President may offer proposals, Congress must review both requests to assure the wise investment of taxpayer dollars.”

Across the Capitol, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel, has warned that a shortfall already exists in available funding under the current BCA cap for nondefense spending. In a letter to the Senate Budget Committee last week, Cochran said the landscape was “very challenging” even before Trump’s budget and “any additional reductions in budget caps … will exacerbate that challenge.”

The documents released thus far by the White House are still short of many details. But when compared with Ryan in 2014, the president’s spending appetites make the task even harder for Congress.

Trump wants to beef up security along the Southwest border, but this means the Department of Homeland Security’s budget will go up, not down, by $2.8 billion. Having avoided the military draft during the Vietnam War, the president is very sensitive about veterans causes, so his budget again adds $4.4 billion above current funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The end result is to increase the depth of the cuts which must be shouldered by the rest of the nondefense accounts. And the administration’s new supplemental spending request for the Pentagon and Homeland Security for the current fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, adds to the burden by assuming that about $18 billion of the costs will be paid for by cutting the same nondefense accounts.

Surprisingly, the budget documents simply assume this without providing any concrete suggestions as to where these 2017 cuts should be found.

The search this spring could give some hint of what lies ahead this summer and next fall.

 

Source : POLITICO

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