Donald Trump’s acting budget chief on Monday heralded the president’s 2020 spending proposal, which looks set to revive his border wall fight with Congress while advocating steep spending cuts to environmental protection and key social safety net programs, as a “return to fiscal sanity”.
Budget documents like the one Trump is releasing on Monday are often seen as just a starting point of negotiation between the White House and Congress. But fresh off the longest government shutdown in history – and delayed by a month because of it – Trump’s 2020 budget shows he is eager to confront Congress again.
He will ask for $8.6bn to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and seek to boost defense expenditure while cutting $2.7tn in non-defense spending over a decade.
Leading Democrats rejected the proposal before it was formally released.
“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 the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York. They said money “would be better spent on rebuilding America”.
Titled A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First, the proposal “embodies fiscal responsibility”, said Russ Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, adding that the administration has “prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending” and shown “we can return to fiscal sanity”.
Speaking on CNBC, Vought confirmed that the $8.6bn border request was part of Trump’s blueprint for the 2020 budget year, which begins on 1 October. Repeating administration talking points which experts have questioned, Vought claimed “the border situation is deteriorating by the day” with “record numbers of apprehensions”.
Speaking anonymously, an administration official said Trump’s budget proposes increasing defense spending to $750bn and making the Space Force a military branch while reducing non-defense accounts by 5%, with cuts recommended to safety-net programs used by many Americans.
The plan sticks to budget caps 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, the proposal will seek to increase funding in others to align with the president’s priorities, according to one official.
The administration will invest more than $80bn for veterans services, a nearly 10% increase. It will also increase resources to fight the opioid epidemic and seek to shift some federal student loan costs to colleges and universities.
The proposal will also include $1bn for a childcare fund that would seek to improve access to care for underserved populations, a White House official said. The one-time allocation is championed by the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump.
Trump is signaling that he wants a fight. The president has resisted big, bipartisan budget deals that break budget caps, threatening to veto one last year. But Congress will need to find agreement on spending levels to avoid another shutdown in the fall. To stay within the caps, the Trump budget shifts a portion of defense spending to an overseas contingency fund, which some fiscal hawks will see as a gimmick.
The White House economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Trump’s budget “points a steady glide path” toward lower spending and borrowing. He also told Fox News Sunday there was no reason to “obsess” about deficits, and expressed confidence that economic growth would top 3% in 2019 and beyond. Others have predicted lower growth.
The Democratic chair of the House budget committee, John Yarmuth of Kentucky, called proposed cuts to essential services “dangerous” and said Trump had already added nearly $2tn to deficits with “tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations, and now it appears his budget asks the American people to pay the price”.
In seeking $8.6bn for more than 300 miles of new border wall, the budget request would more than double the $8.1bn potentially available to the president after he declared a national emergency at the border in order to circumvent Congress. The standoff over the wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in US history.
The budget arrives as the Senate readies to vote 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.
The wall with Mexico punctuated Trump’s campaign for the White House, and it is expected to again be featured in his 2020 re-election effort. He first promised Mexico would pay for it, but Mexico has refused to do so.