US President Donald Trump is reviving his border wall fight, requesting $8.6bn from Congress for his signature project, imposing steep spending cuts to other domestic programmes and setting the stage for another fiscal battle.
Budget documents like the one Trump released on Monday are often seen as just a starting point of negotiation. Fresh off the longest government shutdown in history, Trump’s 2020 proposal shows he is eager to confront Congress again to boost defence spending and cut $2.7trillion in non-military spending over a decade.
Titled “A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First,” Trump’s proposal “embodies fiscal responsibility”, said Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Vought said the administration has “prioritised reining in reckless Washington spending” and shows “we can return to fiscal sanity”.
Trump’s spending blueprint for the 2020 budget year begins on October 1. It would pay for hundreds of kilometres of new barriers along the border.
Trump’s budget proposes increasing military spending to $750bn – and standing up the new Space Force as a military branch – while reducing non-military accounts by five percent, with cuts recommended to safety-net programmes used by many Americans.
The plan sticks to budget caps that both parties have routinely broken in recent years and promises to come into balance in 15 years, relying in part on economic growth that may be uncertain.
While pushing down spending in some areas, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the proposal seeks to increase funding in others to align with the president’s priorities, according to one official, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonimoty ahead of Monday’s budget release.
The administration will invest more than $80bn for veterans services, a nearly 10 percent increase from current levels, including “significant” investments in rehabilitation, employment assistance and suicide prevention.
It will also increase resources to fight the opioid epidemic with money for prevention, treatment, research and recovery, the administration said. And it seeks to shift some federal student loan costs to colleges and universities.
By adhering to strict budget caps, Trump is signalling a fight ahead. The president has resisted big, bipartisan budget deals that break the caps – threatening to veto one last year – but Congress will need to find agreement on spending levels to avoid another federal shutdown in fall. To stay within the caps, the budget shifts a portion of the military spending to an overseas contingency fund, which some fiscal hawks will view as an accounting gimmick.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Trump’s budget “points a steady glide path” towards lower spending and borrowing as a share of the nation’s economy. He also told “Fox News Sunday” that there was no reason to “obsess” about deficits, and expressed confidence that economic growth would top three percent in 2019 and beyond. Others have predicted lower growth.
But the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee, John Yarmuth, called the proposed cuts to essential services “dangerous”. He said Trump added nearly two trillion dollars to deficits with the Republican’s “tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations, and now it appears his budget asks the American people to pay the price”.
‘Same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again’
The border wall, though, remains a signature issue for the president and is poised to stay at the forefront of his agenda, even though Congress has resisted giving him more money for it.
Leading Democrats immediately rejected the proposal.
“Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York. They said the money “would be better spent on rebuilding America”.
In seeking $8.6bn for more than 300 miles (about 480km) of new border wall, the budget request would more than double the $8.1bn already potentially available to the president for the wall after he declared a national emergency at the border last month in order to circumvent Congress – although there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to use that money if he faces a legal challenge, as is expected. The standoff over the wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in US history.
Along with border wall money, the proposed budget also increases funding to increase the “manpower” of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Customs and Border Patrol at a time when many Democrats are calling for cuts – or even the elimination – of those areas. The budget also proposes policy changes to end sanctuary cities, the administration said.
The budget would arrive as the Senate readies to vote this week to terminate Trump’s national emergency declaration. The Democratic-led House already did so, and a handful of Republican senators, uneasy over what they see as an overreach of executive power, are expected to join Senate Democrats in following suit. Congress appears to have enough votes to reject Trump’s declaration but not enough to overturn a veto.
Trump invoked the emergency declaration after Congress approved nearly $1.4bn for border barriers, far less than the $5.7bn he wanted. In doing so, he can potentially tap an additional $3.6bn from military accounts and shift it to building the wall. That’s causing discomfort on Capitol Hill, where even the president’s Republican allies are protective of their power to decide how to allocate federal dollars. Politicians are trying to guard money that’s already been approved for military projects in their states – for base housing or other improvements – for the wall. The administration is promising to backfill those funds, senators said.
The wall with Mexico punctuated Trump’s campaign for the White House, and it’s expected to again be featured in his 2020 re-election effort. He used to say Mexico would pay for it, but Mexico has refused to do so.