President Trump released his “America First” budget proposal in May. It sent a clear message to Congress: he is serious about reshaping the federal government and fulfilling his promise to “drain the swamp.”
To date, Congress has largely ignored the proposal, failing to act on the spending reforms outlined therein. Instead, it now looks increasingly likely that Congress will pass another “budget deal” that would preserve wasteful spending on programs that perpetuate cronyism and feed the federal bureaucracy.
But lawmakers need not resign themselves to failure. There is still time for them to implement Trump’s common sense reforms and start cutting the federal government down to size.
The America First proposal would balance the budget within 10 years, prioritize national defense spending, and reduce non-defense discretionary programs by more than $1.4 trillion over the next decade. It would implement policies to reduce the reach and weight of the federal government by eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs and rolling back harmful regulations that have stifled the nation’s economic recovery.
The proposal’s positive reforms include calls to reduce the size of the Environmental Protection Agency and eliminating cost-ineffective regulations that have proved burdensome for businesses, eliminate funding for United Nations climate change programs, and eliminate independent agencies such as the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which do not fall within the constitutional responsibilities of the federal government.
In March, the administration announced a comprehensive plan for reorganizing the executive branch of government, which would go a long way towards realizing these reforms.
So far, Congress has made virtually no progress on its annual budget process. Neither the House nor Senate has produced its fiscal year 2018 budget resolutions nor brought an appropriations measure to the floor. The House is actively working on a budget resolution and the House Appropriations Committee has begun the process of moving bills through committee.
Reports indicate that the House will propose a discretionary topline spending number of $1.13 trillion in 2018, more than $67 billion higher than the Budget Control Act (BCA) cap. The House plan would increase defense spending by more than $72 billion, but cut domestic programs by only $5 billion next year. That’s very bad news for taxpayers and fiscal conservatives.
While it would be uncommon for any White House budget to be embraced wholly, Congress has not given President Trump’s plan the serious consideration it deserves. The president’s proposal sought to increase defense spending by $54 billion in 2018, to be fully offset by cuts to nondefense programs. While some in Congress may argue that the president’s defense increase is insufficient, all should agree that it should be fully paid for.
Instead of taking the fiscally responsible approach though, it appears Congress would rather add tens of billions of dollars to the national debt next year. With consensus on appropriations bills unlikely to be reached, there is an increasing chance that Congress will look to pass a budget agreement in September that follows in the fiscally irresponsible footsteps of the deal between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner(R-Ohio) in 2015.
We’re talking about a can-kicking agreement to raise both defense and nondefense spending in fiscal year 2018 and possibly beyond. Such a deal would increasing debt and deficit levels immediately, and schedule most of the promised “pay-fors” to take effect years down the road.
Congress should follow President Trump’s lead and, at most, stick to the fiscal year 2018 budget cap while prioritizing national defense through domestic reforms. It’s not that hard. The Heritage Foundation’s Blueprint for Balance identifies $87 billion in nondefense discretionary savings that could be realized in fiscal year 2018 alone and used to offset increases to defense spending.
At the end of June, the Congressional Budget Office increased its fiscal year 2017 budget deficit projection from January by $134 billion. The country cannot afford another budget deal that adds yet billions more.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 7/11/17