BEYOND THE NUMBERS
There’s an $18 billion hole in President Trump’s “skinny” budget: it calls on Congress to cut this year’s funding for non-defense discretionary programs by $18 billion but gives no hint about which programs the President wants to cut.
Most press coverage of the skinny budget has focused on the White House proposals for fiscal year 2018 — big increases in defense funding accompanied by damaging cuts in domestic and international programs. But the budget contains a table showing that President Trump also is proposing to add $33 billion in funding for the current fiscal year: $25 billion for the Pentagon, another $5 billion for war costs, and $3 billion for homeland security (the border wall and other interdiction efforts).
The table also shows that the White House wants Congress to cut $18 billion in existing 2017 funding from non-defense discretionary programs to partly offset the defense and homeland security increases. But the table does not provide any information about which programs President Trump wants to cut. Congress is left in the dark, even though it’s in session for only a limited number of legislative days between now and April 28, the date by which it must pass legislation to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2017 to avert a government shutdown.
The Administration yesterday made an official request to Congress for the $33 billion in supplemental 2017 funding for defense and homeland security, backing up the request with 24 pages of detail. The request doesn’t include any proposals for offsetting cuts.
Moreover, fiscal year 2017 is almost half over. This means that making $18 billion in cuts could be doubly damaging. Many cuts would be squeezed into six months (or less, as it would take time to alter programs and implement the cuts).
Congressional Republican leaders postponed final passage of appropriations bills for 2017 last fall even though Congress had enacted bipartisan legislation specifying overall funding levels for defense and non-defense appropriations, and even though the appropriations committees were confident they could complete bipartisan action on those bills in the fall. This postponement put the government on automatic pilot through April 28.
The new Trump request to add $33 billion for defense and homeland security while making $18 billion in unspecified cuts from non-defense discretionary programs not only would break the bipartisan agreement on overall defense and non-defense funding levels; it also would decrease the odds that the President and Congress will reach agreement in the coming weeks on funding levels for the various discretionary programs. It thereby increases the risk that much of the government could be forced onto automatic pilot for the rest of the year through a full-year continuing resolution (an undesirable outcome) or even lead to a government shutdown (an even more undesirable outcome).