Historically, lawmakers don’t pass presidential budgets introduced to much fanfare — like President Donald Trump’s was Thursday — even if the president is of the same party that controls Congress.
“It’s kind of a tradition to declare the new president’s budget ‘dead on arrival,’” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group. “Congress is going to do what it is going to do.”
Trump unveiled a $1.15 trillion spending plan that was chock full of the same proposals that have been offered up before by his Republican predecessors as they all aimed to make good on campaign pledges to shrink the size of the federal government, eliminate redundant programs and cut waste.
Some of those familiar proposals that made it into Trump’s plan: eliminating money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts, reducing funding for the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, and slashing federal dollars to Amtrak.
But lawmakers just can’t seem to support those sorts of cuts when they consider what they would mean to their constituents.
“Cutting programs means cutting programs in their community,” said Leon Panetta, who served as President Bill Clinton’s budget director and chairman of House Budget Committee. “They can’t sustain it politically.”
Immediately after Trump’s budget was released, Democrats and Republicans alike criticized portions that would affect their constituents or their interests.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, opposed a proposal to eliminate money for an initiative working to restore the Great Lakes. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., worried about a proposed premium increase for flood insurance. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., whose district is home to a major medical research institution, vowed to fight a proposed $5.8 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health.
“Of course, Congress controls the power of the purse,” Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, acknowledged Thursday. “And this will be the first step in that process.”
Trump’s spending proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins Oct.1, includes a $54 billion increase in defense spending, which would require Congress to end defense-spending caps agreed to in 2011. This increase in defense spending, most of which is predetermined, would be offset by cuts in programs that lawmakers have a say over, what government experts call “discretionary spending.”
Military and border security would increase dramatically. Programs combating global warming and providing legal aid for the poor would be slashed. And $4.1 billion would be spent to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“No matter who the president is or whose party controls the White House, this budget is not considered a viable and realistic plan for spending,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. “As the saying goes: The president proposes and the Congress disposes. This means that it is the members of Congress who pass appropriation bills, not the president.”
For all the power the president has in other areas, his budget is merely advisory. The Constitution gives Congress the power to dole out the money, and lawmakers are not eager to give up that control.
“It’s about institutional power and pride,” said Ross Baker, a congressional expert at Rutgers University. “Congress has given up a lot to presidents in recent years. They don’t want to give up this.”
Budget experts say Congress sometimes allows new presidents to achieve some of their goals from their first budgets in part because they often put big-picture items in those spending plans. The president most successful at getting what he wanted in recent history was Ronald Reagan in 1981, when a Democratic-led House of Representatives and Republican-run Senate gave him much of what he asked for in his first budget, Baker said.
The document Trump released Thursday is merely a blueprint — what’s dubbed a skinny budget — with a full budget being released in May, a common practice for presidents in their first year.
Trump’s fellow Republicans control both chambers of Congress, but even so lawmakers are expected to move forward with their own budget blueprint this spring, as they traditionally have done.
“Historically, presidential budgets do not fare well with Congress,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
(Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald and Lindsay Wise and William Douglas in Washington contributed to this report.)
©2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau
Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.