Briefing Book

Trump’s First Budget Bill Undoes Trump’s First Budget

And it’s a good thing, too.

By Robert Gordon

Tagged budget

If you go to OMB’s budget landing page today, you will find two documents. The first is the 2018 “skinny budget” getting all the attention. On page 3, Mick Mulvaney declares:

This 2018 Budget Blueprint will not add to the deficit. It has been crafted much the same way as any American family creates its own budget while paying bills around their kitchen table; it makes hard choices.

This is always the rhetoric: No new deficits. Hard choices. Your family in the kitchen.

The other document looks highly technical:

“Estimate #1—FY 2017 Appropriations Request: Department of Defense to rebuild the U.S. Armed Forces and accelerate the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and Department of Homeland Security for urgent border protection activities.”

This is the President’s supplemental budget request for 2017. It seems to be the first bill that Donald Trump has sent to Congress.

From a policy perspective, the most notable features are the added funding to build the wall and to increase immigration enforcement, proposals that have caused or will cause great harm to human beings and to America’s standing in the world.

From a budget perspective, three things stand out:

  1. $18 billion in completely unspecified domestic cuts. Here’s all the detail that Mulvaney offers: “I recommend that the Congress enact non-defense discretionary reductions of $18 billion in FY 2017.” With the current Continuing Resolution expiring on April 28, this is an incredible act of buck-passing. What’s more, $18 billion is a lot of money! Especially with enactment likely on the last possible day, with just 5 months left in the year. Congress and agencies try to plan for these things, but even so such a big reduction so late in the year would be guaranteed to cause pain solely through needless disruption. Fortunately, because OMB has not taken responsibility for the specifics of such an irresponsible cut, Congress will not take it seriously.
  2. The Defense and Homeland Security increases come to $33 billion.
  3. Most striking, there is $15 billion in deficit spending.

$15 billion is a trivial addition to the deficit. And Democrats rarely apologize for a supplemental spending bill that is not offset. But Mick Mulvaney himself has been a crusader against that practice. And the entire rationale for Trump’s devastating cuts to medical research, infrastructure, and poverty programs is the need for balanced budgets.

The point here is not that Trump ought to cut even more domestic spending so that his supplemental is paid for. That would be even worse. Rather, as David Kamin explains, a “hard choices” exercise that arbitrarily focuses only on spending, in only on one-third of the budget, makes no sense. And because the exercise makes no sense, it’s a small blessing that Trump’s first real budget bill breaks the word of his first real budget.

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Robert Gordon served as acting deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama.

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