Bud­get to desert elec­tion pledges

TRUMP TO RE­LEASE PRO­POSAL MON­DAY Wall, deficit, health goals stray from 2016 plat­form


The bud­get pro­posal Pres­i­dent Trump will re­lease Mon­day is ex­pected to lay bare how much he has ad­justed to the po­lit­i­cal and prac­ti­cal lim­its of Washington, with some of his big­gest cam­paign prom­ises from 2016 cast aside and re­placed with more lim­ited pol­icy am­bi­tions.

On im­mi­gra­tion, health care, in­fra­struc­ture and the deficit, the fi­nal bud­get pitch of Trump’s first term will look much dif­fer­ent from the cam­paign plat­form he of­fered four years ago.

The bor­der wall that he promised would be paid for by Mex­ico is in­stead be­ing fi­nanced by bil­lions in U.S. tax­payer dol­lars, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get re­quest to Congress is ex­pected to seek even more.

The pres­i­dent’s 2015 prom­ise to pro­tect Med­i­caid from cuts has been re­peat­edly ig­nored, as he has sought to slash some $800 bil­lion over a decade from the health pro­gram for low-in­come Amer­i­cans. The lat­est ev­i­dence of this came on Satur­day, when he wrote on Twit­ter that the bud­get pro­posal “will not be touch­ing your So­cial Se­cu­rity or Medi­care.” He made no men­tion of pro­tect­ing

even though he had vowed to guard it dur­ing his first pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

He is also seek­ing to gut the Af­ford­able Care Act through the courts de­spite pledg­ing to safe­guard one of its key tenets: in­surance cov­er­age for peo­ple with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions.

Dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, Trump vowed to de­liver a ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture plan, but there has been vir­tu­ally no progress on this is­sue.

And the pres­i­dent’s prom­ise to elim­i­nate the gov­ern­ment’s roughly $20 tril­lion debt within eight years has also gone un­ful­filled. In­stead, Trump has added al­most $3 tril­lion to the debt in three years, and that num­ber is only ex­pected to bal­loon, ac­cord­ing to non­par­ti­san es­ti­mates. Pro­pos­als to cut do­mes­tic pro­grams have evap­o­rated in mas­sive yearend bud­get deals with Congress that have ac­tu­ally raised spend­ing lim­its.

Trump’s first bud­get pro­posal re­lied on ques­tion­able math when it sought to elim­i­nate the bud­get deficit af­ter 10 years, but even that goal has slipped out of reach.

Trump has scored a string of vic­to­ries in re­cent months, in­clud­ing se­cur­ing a bi­par­ti­san re­vamp of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment and be­ing ac­quit­ted by Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate on im­peach­ment charges. He signed a par­tial trade deal with China and mar­shaled through a mas­sive tax-cut pack­age in 2017.

But Mon­day’s bud­get pro­posal will demon­strate that a num­ber of the pres­i­dent’s lofti­est cam­paign prom­ises from four years ago have largely been aban­doned, be­cause of po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties as well as sim­ple bud­get math.

“I have no idea how he can live up to his cam­paign prom­ises to re­duce the deficit, not ad­dress en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, and at the same time cut taxes,” said Bill Hoagland, a Repub­li­can who served as staff di­rec­tor for the Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee. “I have not fig­ured out how to square this cir­cle, and nei­ther have they.”

White House of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle, but pres­i­dent has sought to seize on a range of ac­com­plish­ments as af­fir­ma­tion that his gov­ern­ing style is de­liv­er­ing re­sults for Amer­i­cans. White House of­fi­cials have ar­gued that the strong econ­omy is lift­ing wages for work­ers across the in­come dis­tri­bu­tion, point­ing to low un­em­ploy­ment and rel­a­tively steady growth.

“We are ad­vanc­ing with un­bri­dled op­ti­mism and lift­ing high our cit­i­zens of every race, color, re­li­gion and creed,” the pres­i­dent said in his State of the Union ad­dress. “The years of eco­nomic de­cay are over.”

As a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 2016, Trump pledged time and again that Mex­ico would pay for his bor­der wall.

It was a prom­ise he’s also spo­rad­i­cally made as pres­i­dent, at times sug­gest­ing that the rene­go­ti­ated North Amer­i­can trade deal would some­how fi­nance the bar­rier’s con­struc­tion, though with­out ex­plain­ing how. The Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment has re­jected the no­tion of play­ing any role in pay­ing for the wall, and Trump’s bud­gets have not pro­posed pulling the money from Mex­ico. In­stead, U.S. tax­pay­ers are spend­ing up­ward of $20 bil­lion for the bor­der wall, be­tween money ap­pro­pri­ated by Congress and funds Trump has taken from the Pen­tagon bud­get by declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency at the bor­der.

That trend is ex­pected to con­tinue in the bud­get due out Mon­day.

On in­fra­struc­ture, Trump has re­peat­edly made prom­ises of a $1 tril­lion in­fra­struc­ture plan, but his last bud­get pro­posed only a $200 bil­lion fed­eral in­vest­ment to­ward that goal while cut­ting in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing in other ar­eas. He has flirted with mak­ing an in­fra­struc­ture deal with Democrats, only to have those ef­forts fiz­zle. The no­tion of a White House “In­fra­struc­ture Week” has be­come a stand­ing joke on Capi­tol Hill. And de­spite a re­newed prom­ise in the State of the Union ad­dress, and a new round of talks in­volv­ing Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin, con­gres­sional Democrats have lit­tle hope that an in­fra­struc­ture deal will ac­tu­ally ma­te­ri­al­ize.

“I hope this bud­get’s dif­fer­ent, and in par­tic­u­lar, I would hope that it is dif­fer­ent in the in­fraMed­i­caid, struc­ture area where the pres­i­dent’s talked such a good game,” said Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), a se­nior mem­ber of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. “But so far, we’ve seen very lit­tle.”

Pres­i­den­tial bud­gets are an an­nual tra­di­tion that spell out the White House’s vi­sion for the gov­ern­ment. Congress of­ten casts many of the ideas aside, but the doc­u­ments are sup­posed to serve as the open­ing of­fer for bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions later in the year. But even more so than un­der prior ad­min­is­tra­tions, Trump’s bud­get pro­pos­als have been largely re­jected by law­mak­ers who’ve agreed on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis to re­store and even in­crease spend­ing for agen­cies and pro­grams that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has tried to cut, in­clud­ing health and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams and for­eign aid.

Trump in the past few years has sought to backpedal on some of the pro­posed bud­get cuts, fac­ing blow­back af­ter seek­ing to cut fund­ing in states cen­tral to his re­elec­tion cam­paign, such as Michi­gan.

That has led to some de­jec­tion among ca­reer of­fi­cials at agen­cies and within the White House Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, who are forced to de­vote enor­mous time and at­ten­tion to de­velthe op­ing a bud­get doc­u­ment they know Congress will largely re­ject, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral peo­ple with knowl­edge of in­ter­nal ad­min­is­tra­tion dy­nam­ics who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to de­scribe them.

In prior years, Trump’s bud­gets have re­flected the ir­rec­on­cil­able con­tra­dic­tions of his cam­paign prom­ises in part by re­ly­ing on overly rosy eco­nomic fore­casts and gloss­ing over how he would achieve big cuts.

In 2017, Trump’s bud­get pre­dicted that eco­nomic growth would surge to an an­nual rate of 3 per­cent by 2021 and stay at that healthy rate in­def­i­nitely. This goal has proved elu­sive. The econ­omy grew 2.9 per­cent in 2018 but slowed to 2.3 per­cent in 2019, and is pro­jected to slow even more this year. Re­ly­ing on rosy eco­nomic es­ti­mates in the bud­get plans al­lows the White House to as­sume that pros­per­ing fam­i­lies and com­pa­nies will gen­er­ate high lev­els of tax rev­enue as a way to off­set the widen­ing deficit. In­stead, the deficit es­ti­mates have proved faulty.

Trump’s bud­gets have also pro­posed enor­mous cuts to do­mes­tic spend­ing pro­grams as a way to try to bring the deficit down. But non­de­fense do­mes­tic spend­ing, aside from what are con­sid­ered manda­tory pro­grams, makes up just a sliver of the over­all $4.6 tril­lion fed­eral bud­get. Manda­tory pro­grams, in­clud­ing the do­mes­tic pro­grams Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity, make up more than 60 per­cent of fed­eral spend­ing. And since Trump has promised re­peat­edly to wall off Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity from cuts, while also in­creas­ing the Pen­tagon and Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity bud­gets, he has fewer agen­cies avail­able for cuts if he wants to seek re­duc­tions.

Rep. Charles J. “Chuck” Fleis­chmann (R-Tenn.), a mem­ber of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, said the deficit can­not be ad­dressed un­til Congress and the ad­min­is­tra­tion take on en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams such as Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity. But he noted that Trump has promised to pro­tect those pro­grams, “and I will cer­tainly re­spect that.”

“So I think right now, this year, is prob­a­bly not the year to deal with the manda­tory side of the equa­tion,” Fleis­chmann said. “But per­haps that’s some­thing that Pres­i­dent Trump will look at with the Congress in his sec­ond term.”

The pres­i­dent and his aides have also said the GOP tax cut of 2017 would pay for it­self, mean­ing that it would create so much new tax rev­enue be­cause of growth that there will not be an im­pact on the deficit. This pre­dic­tion has not come true, crit­ics say. The Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice re­cently said that an­nual deficits will top $1 tril­lion in 2020 for the first time since 2012 and that the tax cuts have led to a re­duc­tion in new rev­enue.

Smaller prom­ises have also proved un­work­able. As a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Trump re­peat­edly promised to save the fed­eral gov­ern­ment $300 bil­lion a year by al­low­ing the United States to ne­go­ti­ate lower pre­scrip­tion drug prices, say­ing “on Day One we solve” that is­sue. Trump later backed off his prom­ise to have Medi­care ne­go­ti­ate for lower drug prices, although non­par­ti­san ex­perts had dis­missed the claim that $300 bil­lion could be saved an­nu­ally.

And the im­peach­ment drama has also forced the ad­min­is­tra­tion to shift course. Past at­tempts to cut a State Depart­ment for­eign aid pro­gram for Ukraine that was at the cen­ter of the im­peach­ment in­quiry are be­ing aban­doned this year, although the ad­min­is­tra­tion is likely to pur­sue cuts to other State Depart­ment pro­grams, in line with the pres­i­dent’s well­known dis­taste for for­eign aid.

Although Trump has talked pub­licly about want­ing to cut spend­ing, he has also sig­naled an in­dif­fer­ence to­ward the fed­eral bud­get. Dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the White House bud­get pro­posal was typ­i­cally re­leased at a high-pro­file news con­fer­ence fea­tur­ing mem­bers of the Cabi­net and top aides. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have done less to mar­ket and tout their bud­get doc­u­ment. Trump rarely speaks of it.

Leaked au­dio from a din­ner the pres­i­dent at­tended in Jan­uary with donors at Mar-a-Lago, his pri­vate re­sort in Florida, cap­tured the pres­i­dent brush­ing aside those who are crit­i­cal of ris­ing de­fense and fed­eral spend­ing as part of the grow­ing na­tional debt. “Who the hell cares about the bud­get? We’re go­ing to have a coun­try,” the pres­i­dent said.


Pres­i­dent Trump’s bud­get will show how he has ad­justed to the po­lit­i­cal lim­its of Washington.

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