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You can't always get what you want: Trump sells his $1.1 trillion budget to Congress

President Donald Trump arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, for his address to a joint session of Congress. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Image via AP)

"You can't always get what you want" by the Rolling Stones was the theme music that played at the end of Donald Trump's rallies all throughout his campaign, but after releasing his $1.1 trillion budget blueprint, it looks like that track might describe his presidency as well.

On Thursday the administration released its so-called "skinny budget," a wish-list of new funds and big offsets that the president delivered to Capitol Hill. The budget outline itself was described by White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney as a "hard power budget," requesting an additional $54 billion in defense spending and new money for homeland security. At the same time, the president's proposal seeks to offset all new spending with deep cuts elsewhere.

At the top of the list of federal agencies slated for deep cuts are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the State Department, the Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, and Health and Human Services. Within those agencies and others, the White House has suggested cutting off all federal funds to certain programs that it views as duplicative, unnecessary, or "a waste of your money," as OMB director Mulvaney described America's climate change programs.

In the hours following Trump's budget release, Democrats responded with outrage, accusing the president of putting together a list of spending priorities that slashes social programs from heating subsidies and Meals on Wheels to public broadcasting and community grants.

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings accused President Trump of forgetting about the "forgotten men and women" he vowed to help during his campaign, adding that the president's cuts would "devastate working families."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer promised that Democrats would lead the charge and "emphatically oppose" the president's budget cuts.

Some Republicans also bristled at the budget proposal. A top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, denounced many of the president's budget cuts as "draconian, careless and counterproductive." Rogers's rural Appalachian district is one of the poorest congressional districts in the country and would be especially hard hit by the proposed defunding of the Appalachian Regional Commission, which provides economic advancement opportunities and critical infrastructure to the 13 states.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) the top Republican for agriculture appropriations warned that the president's budget "does not work" for America's farmers and ranchers. The budget seeks to cut $4.7 billion from USDA, more than one-fifth of the department's budget. "Given the challenging times in the farm patch – from low commodity prices to natural disasters – we need to prioritize and maintain our agriculture budget," Hoeven said in a statement.

Back in February, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the budget would be "dead on arrival," arguing that the deep cuts to the State Department and foreign aid will leave the United States less able to resolve conflicts around the globe.

But it's important to remember that what the White House released on Thursday was its opening salvo, a starting point for negotiations which will go on for months and culminate (hopefully) by October 1. And historically, what the president sends to Congress is not what Congress ends up passing.

"I don't care who was president, what they requested and what Congress does it is totally different," said Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-Fla.). "Ultimately it's up to us, Congress, that's our constitutional duty, we're the ones who create the appropriations bills."

Balart, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, explained that the president's discretionary budget proposal is just the beginning of a "very long, arduous negotiating process." What Trump requested will inform members of Congress and the Republican majority will consider the administration's priorities, but the end result will inevitably be very different.

"We also will listen to them [the Trump administration], but we also will be listening to our members," he said.

On Thursday, OMB director Mulvaney was asked by reporters about the mounting opposition among some members of Trump's own party to the president's suggested deep spending cuts. The former congressman acknowledged that many of the cuts will be "very unpopular," but President Trump is in a "unique position" to craft a budget that makes hard choices because he is not "beholden" to the same pressures from local constituents, special interests and lobbyists as members of Congress.

"The President has drafted a budget for the entire nation because that’s who he sees himself as representing," Mulvaney said. "He did not ask lobbyists for input on this, he did not ask special interests for input on this, and he certainly didn’t focus on how these programs might impact a specific congressional district."

For the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the administration's lack of consideration for the impact on members' districts didn't help the president's sales pitch.

"I think he unnecessarily created so many opponents by these cuts that the administration jeopardized any chance it had," Yarmuth said, arguing that the president won't be able to sell the budget to Congress.

Even though the outline was only a starting point for negotiations with the Congress, Yarmuth believes it was a bad place to to begin. "It may be his opening bid, but I think if its an opening bid it was foolhardy, because it alienated so many people and puts them on the offensive against the budget."

House Budget Committee member Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) took a different approach, saying that even though a number of members, including Republicans, were upset about the president's proposal, "That's the nature of any budget."

As a former governor, he went on to defend the executive budget as "valuable," explaining that it provides a "consolidated viewpoint," rather than the disparate views of the 535 members of the House and Senate.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus dismissed the president's budget blueprint as "relatively meaningless," because it is Congress and not the White House that ultimately appropriates government funds.

The director of policy outreach at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Tommy Binion also expects the president's budget plan will evolve as time goes on, but ultimately it is a statement of values and priorities that conservatives and Republicans can support.

"I think President Trump is an excellent salesman and I don't think he'll have any trouble selling this to conservatives," Binion said. "After all, conservatives are for fiscal discipline and this is what fiscal discipline looks like."

For the people who are strongly opposing the proposed budget cuts, Binion noted that the fact the Trump administration could find $54 billion in offsets demonstrates how"bloated" federal spending has become over the years. "I'm not sure that the extremely high spending we've seen over the past decade or so is a good benchmark for deciding what necessary spending is," he said.

Part of Trump's message to American voters was on increasing economic growth and cutting the country's deficit, projected to hit $445 billion in 2017. While the budget deficit shrank under President Obama, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is projecting America's total national debt could hit $10 trillion over the next decade.

Fixing the deficit is a much bigger problem that can't be solved by the president's discretionary budget, mostly because the president's $1.1 trillion blueprint accounts for less than one-third of total government spending. The remainder is non-discretionary, or mandatory and includes programs like Medicare, Social Security and interest payments on the debt.

That larger piece of the pie will be handled in the president's full budget, expected to be released in May. But don't expect Trump to take on the thorny, politically sensitive issues of entitlement reform. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly promised he would keep Social Security in tact and not make any significant cuts to Medicare.

"I don't expect the White House to put dramatic entitlement reforms in their next budget," Binion said, noting that conversation will largely be driven by conservatives in Congress. "I'm sure he'd be willing to full embrace them," he added, "I doubt they'll be in his budget."

Even though the White House and Congress have months to hash out a 2018 budget, they only have until April 28 to pass a full short-term spending bill that will fund the government through the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year. So far that supplemental budget calls for an additional $33 billion in defense and homeland security spending, including funds for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, but only $18 billion in cuts. In other words, the president's budget is about $10 billion over the mandatory caps.

Over the coming weeks the White House will have to work with Congress to set those short-term budget priorities. Then, the administration just might find they get what they need.




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