Trump Budget
September 1, 2017

President Trump reportedly won't follow through with his threats to shut down the government if the $1.6 billion he has requested to build the border wall is not included in a short-term budget deal, The Washington Post reports. Trump vowed in August that "if we have to close down our government, we're building that wall," and suggested in May that a "good shutdown" would be required to get Republicans and Democrats to fall in line with his agenda.

Lawmakers will meet in September to strike a deal to fund the government through December. The budget requires votes from Democrats in the Senate in order to pass, and many of the party's leadership has loudly spoken out against funding the wall. But Trump will want to see border wall funding included in the bill for December onwards, Republican aides told the Post.

In the spring, Trump also walked back on his insistence on border wall funding in order to pass the current budget through September. Jeva Lange

May 24, 2017

All White House budgets rely on somewhat rosy economic assumptions and some guesswork, but President Trump's fiscal 2018 $4.1 trillion budget plan "is unusually brazen in its defiance of basic math, and in its accounting discrepancies amounting to trillions-with-a-t rather than mere millions or billions," says Politico's Michael Grunwald. The blueprint purports to balance the federal budget within 10 years, but to get there the White House used some pretty creative math, economists say.

The first red flag is that it assumes average 3 percent growth over the next decade, rather than the 2 percent projected by the Congressional Budget Office and other forecasters. "If growth instead remained at 2 percent with no uptick in unemployment, projected deficits would widen by $3.1 trillion over the coming decade, according to Mr. Trump's budget," The Wall Street Journal says. The White House dismisses the 2 percent number as defeatist, saying Trump's proposed tax cuts and regulation-slashing will lead to at least 3 percent growth.

That's "fair enough if you believe in tooth fairies and ludicrous supply-side economics," says former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers in The Washington Post. But it also appears that Trump is counting $2.1 trillion in revenue twice — once from growth sparked by the projected tax cuts, and once to make those tax cuts revenue-neutral — which Summers says "appears to be the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them." Maya MacGuineas at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget agrees: "The same money cannot be used twice."

White House budget officials pushed back on the double-counting charge, saying the $2.1 trillion isn't assumed to come from the tax cuts, because the tax overhaul — when the plan is finalized — will be deficit-neutral on its own, thanks to to-be-determined loophole-closing and deduction-limiting. Trump "is counting on unspecified tax increases to convert a plan that independent analysts believe will cost about $5.5 trillion in its current form into a plan that will cost nothing at all, and would somehow end up producing $2 trillion worth of deficit reduction through growth," translates Grunwald, skeptically.

There are some other accounting oddities, too; Binyamin Appelbaum at The New York Times points to the projected $300 billion in revenue from the estate tax, which Trump has promised to eliminate. The Wall Street Journal's Nick Timiraos notes that Trump proposes $200 billion in infrastructure spending while also cutting $95 billion from the Highway Trust Fund, which maintain's the nation's roads and bridges. You can get a brief overview of Trump's budget from CNNMoney below. Peter Weber

March 17, 2017

Republican Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) deemed President Trump's proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's budgets "short-sighted" in an interview Friday on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "These are investments the country ought to be making," said Cole, a member of the House Appropriations and Budget Committees. He made clear he was not in favor of the 2018 budget blueprint's proposal to significantly slash NIH funding and reallocate CDC funding to states, suggesting Trump should instead look to entitlement reform to support "wise" increases to military spending.

Cole argued that defense spending — which Trump's budget blueprint calls for ratcheting up by $54 billion — is no more important than investing in health research. "You're much more likely to die in a pandemic than a terrorist attack, and so that's part of the defense of the country as well," Cole said. "The CDC is what protects you from things like Ebola and Zika. The NIH, we have 1.6 million Americans a year that contract cancer. About 600,000 die. That is more people than died in the Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history."

The Oklahoma congressman also voiced concern about the budget's call for cutting the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by as much as 30 percent. Cole pointed out "almost half" of the EPA's $8.3 billion budget goes to "grants for clean water and tribal grants, things of that nature." "I think those are popular and pretty well-served," Cole said, though he conceded that some of the agency's regulatory measures "are not particularly popular, and I don't think particularly helpful."

Catch Cole's interview below. Becca Stanek

March 16, 2017

On Thursday, President Trump will send his first budget proposal to Congress, and it's a doozy. Trump seeks to raise the budget for the Defense Department by $54 billion and give more modest boosts to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Homeland Security Department — mostly for building Trump's Mexico border wall and hiring more border agents — and cut everything else. The State Department and Environmental Protection Agency would see the steepest cuts (29 percent and 31 percent, respectively), and the budget would eliminate all funding for 19 federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS and NPR), the Legal Services Corporation, the Chemical Safety Board, and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The first thing to note is that Congress almost certainly won't enact most of Trump's changes. Congress decides how much the government spends and what it spends it on, and the big hike in defense spending, for example, would require Congress to repeal the 2011 "sequester" cuts, something Democrats won't agree to without an increase in spending on non-defense programs, too. The budget, then, is a blueprint for how Trump wants to change Washington, and The Washington Post has a handy graph showing the outlines of those priorities.

The entire budget for discretionary spending is $1.1 trillion. To pay for a bigger military and Mexico border wall, Trump would not only eliminate the roughly $300 million the U.S. spends on the arts but also federal subsidies for Amtrak's long-distance routes, the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program — used to finance programs like Meals on Wheels and housing assistance — the Energy Star program, and subsidies for rural airports. Trump also proposes privatizing the U.S. air traffic control system.

"There aren't a lot of examples of presidents coming in and saying, 'I'm going to eliminate this program and that program and cut a whole bunch of programs back anywhere from 10 to 30 percent,'" Robert Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, tells The Washington Post. "This is quite unusual." Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads