WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump promised during his first campaign back in 2016 that he would wipe out the federal deficit in just eight years.
But when Trump submitted his fourth proposed budget to Congress on Monday, he abandoned that pledge, just as he has in his three previous budget proposals. The new budget proposal sets a 15-year target for eliminating the deficit.
Deficit hawks questioned whether the 15-year target that Trump spelled out is even attainable, arguing the administration’s budget relies on optimistic projections for economic growth and unlikely budget cuts to claim $4.6 trillion in deficit reduction.
“Frankly, budgeting has become pretty much a joke in this country, where budgets are used as messaging documents and an excuse to trade insults,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
This year’s trillion-dollar deficit “should cause us to re-think this dynamic,” MacGuineas said. “The president and Congress should work to agree on national priorities and sound plans to pay for them. Sure it sounds like a pipe dream, but in the world’s largest economy, it should be a given.”
Trump’s $4.89 trillion spending plan – the final budget of his first term in office – reads more like a 2020 campaign document than a spending plan that has any realistic chance of becoming law.
It proposes steep cuts in many domestic programs while increasing spending on the military and other programs that will appeal to Trump’s base as he campaigns for voters to return him to office for another four years.
The Trump blueprint calls for a 22 percent cut to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development’s budgets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The Education Department’s budget will be slashed by $5.6 billion, or 7.8%. The Environmental Protection Agency’s budget would shrink by $2.4 billion, a 26% cut that is sure to meet resistance from Democrats in Congress.
The Energy Department would see an 8.1% cut, while Health and Human Services’ budget would be slashed by 10 percent and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget would shrink by 15.2%.
Military spending, on the other hand, would jump by 0.3%. Homeland Security’s budget would rise by $1.6 billion, a 3.2% increase. NASA would see a 12% increase, while Veterans Affairs would get a 14% boost.
With Democrats controlling the House, Trump’s budget stands no chance of winning approval in Congress. White House budget director Russ Vought acknowledged as much on Monday, telling reporters during a budget that lawmakers have ignored the president’s spending cut proposals for the past three years.
“The first three budgets have not moved in our direction,” he said.
But Vought said the budget reflects Trump’s “pro-growth” economic policies, while funding “national priorities.”
House Democrats signaled they have no plans to go along with Trump’s proposals.
“The budget is a statement of values, and once again the president is showing just how little he values the good health, financial security and well-being of hard-working American families,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., chairman of the House Budget Committee, called the spending proposal “a destructive and irrational budget.”
“Congress will stand firm against this president’s broken promises and his disregard for the human cost of his destructive policies,” he said.
Overall, Trump’s budget will seek $4.4 trillion in savings over a decade – and $2 trillion of that come from savings from entitlements, including $130 billion from changes to Medicare prescription drug pricing.
Democrats said that would amount to half a trillion-dollar cut to Medicare, roughly $900 billion in cuts to Medicaid and a $24 billion cut to Social Security.
But Vought insisted Medicare and Medicaid would merely be reformed, not cut. “Reducing the cost of health care is not a cut,” he said.
Trump made a similar argument, telling Republican governors during a meeting on Monday, “We’re not touching Medicare … We’re not touching Social Security.”
Yet just last month, Trump opened the door to overhauling entitlement programs such as Medicare, saying during a television appearance while in Davos, Switzerland, that “tremendous growth” in the economy would make it easier to restructure such programs.
The Trump administration is projecting economic growth of 3% over the next several years, which economists say is unrealistic. The economy grew 2.3% in 2019, falling short of Trump’s promise of at least 3%, according to data released last month by the Commerce Department.
Trump also is asking Congress for $2 billion in new for construction of a wall along the U.S.’s southern border with Mexico, one of his signature promises from his 2016 presidential campaign. That is less than the $5 billion sought last year in border wall funding, a request that triggered a record-setting, 35-day government shutdown last winter after congressional Democrats refused to approve the money. The $2 billion would build about 82 miles of additional wall, the latest contribution to the 1,000-mile project.
Trump also proposes spending billions on health care, infrastructure, business loans and internet access in rural America, a key part of his constituency as he seeks re-election in November.
Among the programs is $25 billion for a new “Revitalizing Rural America” grant program to help areas with broadband, transportation, water and road and bridge projects; $614 million in funding for water and wastewater grants and loans; and $690 million in loans to finance broadband infrastructure deployment of rural telecommunication facilities.
Money for rural America:Trump budget proposal pitches billions for rural America, a key constituency in 2020
Supporters of the programs that Trump is looking to cut already are warning of the consequences of slashing their budgets.
Adm. Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter to congressional leaders on Friday warning that cuts to international affairs programs are “out of touch with the reality around the world.”
“This is a moment when more investment in diplomacy and development is needed, not less,” Mullen wrote said.
The Trump blueprint calls for slashing U.S. spending on global health programs by 34 percent, which might draw particular ire amid the current coronavirus outbreak.
“At a time when we are faced with a global health threat with the coronavirus, the Trump administration is doubling down on its efforts to gut the very programs needed to protect American lives,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This is not just short-sighted, it’s actually dangerous.”
He said Congress would work across party lines to come up with “a realistic and responsible budget” that would not undermine American leadership in the world.
Republican strategist Rick Tyler, a frequent Trump critic, also took issue with the administration’s budget proposal.
“Politically, with its proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – all programs Trump promised not to touch – it’s a gift to Democrats,” he said.
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen and Bart Jansen