Despite Republican control over two government branches, Trump and Congress are divided
One reason: Budget's aren't bills; annual budget requests are political wishlists
President Donald Trump’s first full budget request was formally delivered Tuesday to Congress.
There were photo-ops and a public push from the administration to tout its plan as evidence it is doing what the billionaire businessman turned reality star said he would do during the 2016 campaign: Slash federal programs and balance the budget.
Republicans have argued a GOP president would help them implement policies they have pushed for years, but Trump’s budget blueprint will largely be ignored by the GOP-controlled Congress.
“Almost every president’s budget proposal that I know of is basically dead on arrival,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said bluntly Monday, just hours before the budget release.
Here’s five reasons why:
1. Budgets don’t get signed into law
Annual budget requests are political wishlists that set out a leader or party’s policy priorities. They are not bills that are sent to the President to be signed into law. Both the House and Senate vote on budget proposals but they often vote on several versions – one crafted by leaders, potentially others drafted by conservative Republicans, one written by Democrats. These are messaging votes and are used by both parties to zero in on key contrasts – on health care, tax reform, on funding for education, environmental and medical research programs.
Budgets include topline numbers and instructions to other committees to use to write annual spending bills, or craft legislation that actually carry out the budget’s directives.
The roll out of the budget is a photo-op that allows the President (or his surrogates) to point to a glossy-bound book that shows how he is following through on key campaign promises.
“Based on what we know about this budget, the good news – the only good news – is that it’s likely to be roundly rejected by members of both parties here in the Senate – just as the last budget was,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, the minority leader.
Budgets sent to the Hill from President Barack Obama were also mostly ignored by Democrats in the House and Senate, and often got fewer votes when Republicans brought them up on the floor than the proposals drafted by the top Democrats on the budget committees.
2. Republicans in Congress are working on their own plan
Congress’ key constitutional role is its power of the purse.
“We haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to any president’s budget since I’ve been here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview with Bloomberg News last week.
The GOP on the Hill and the White House will coordinate on the topline numbers, but budget committee chairs are working with top leaders on their own budget proposal, which is expected to be rolled out sometime in mid-June.
The nitty gritty of how much each agency will get for various federal programs will be decided by members of the House and Senate appropriations committees. Those panels will begin writing roughly a dozen spending bills, which need to pass both chamber and be signed into law by the President before the end of September to avoid a government shutdown.
This year, the GOP will use the budget process to smooth passage of one if its top policy goals – restructuring the tax code. Republicans plan to use procedural tool knows as budget reconciliation which allows them to pass major legislation in the Senate with a simple majority. They used the same tool in last year’s budget resolution to address their first priority with unified Republican government – repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Many of the policy proposals in the Trump administration’s budget are cribbed from earlier proposals crafted by Hill Republicans, including the Medicaid cuts that were part of the House GOP health care overhaul.
3. Some programs are tough to slash
Congress may not go along with Trump’s proposed cuts to some programs they consider critical and popular, like Medicaid and the National Institutes of Health.
Speaker Paul Ryan urged House GOP members to hold their fire on specific elements of the President’s budget in a closed door meeting on Tuesday morning, noting they should review all the details and emphasizing it brings the budget into balance – a feature they all want, according to a Republican who attended the meeting.
But not all House Republicans heeded that call.
“If taken as is the President’s budget, it would be very harmful,” Kentucky GOP Rep. Hal Rogers told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve said before these cuts that are being proposed are draconian. They are not mere shavings. They are really deep, deep cuts.”
The budget contains hundreds of billions in cuts to federal-state health insurance program for low-income Americans, something the House called for in its Obamacare repeal and replacement bill that it recently passed.
But that proposal is the subject of intense negotiations in the Senate, where some nervous Republicans are unwilling to accept that 10 million people could lose coverage under that budget. Trump’s last effort to cut NIH funding was blocked by both Democrats and Republicans who stood up for the scientists there who are working on medical breakthroughs.
“The President’s proposed budget has never been followed in the Senate or the House so the idea that this somehow is imposing cuts is just not true,” Cornyn said about the President’s budget proposal at the end of March. “It’s going to be up to us to work through that and I dare say just after voting to plus up NIH funding in in the 21st Century Cures bill, it would be difficult to get the votes to then cut it.”
4. Republicans largely oppose some of the things Trump wants to add
Ivanka Trump is pushing a $25 billion family leave and child care assistance program that might be more in line with Democratic orthodoxy than Republican. Not many GOP lawmakers came to Washington campaigning to add entitlements. But what do about the first daughter’s pet project could be a touchy subject for congressional Republicans who want to keep good relations with the President.
“I would certainly be happy to talk to her,” Cornyn said Monday. “I’m sure all of us would be. But, obviously, when it comes to spending it’s a matter of priorities, where that would fall in the list of priorities, I can’t tell you right now.”
Look for Democrats to highlight this split by pushing Republicans to vote up or down on the overall budget plan and separately on Ivanka’s proposal. Republicans did the same to Democrats throughout the Obama years, repeatedly forcing Democrats – especially moderates – to embrace parts of Obama’s budget Republicans considered out of step with their voters.
The President’s budget largely leaves massive entitlement programs alone. Republicans on the Hill do support the move to boost spending on the military, but they warn that without the willingness to reform or trim large cost drivers like Social Security and Medicare it forces larger cuts in other programs.
Rogers said without addressing those programs, OMB “pretty well boxed themselves in on what to cut.” He noted that “the mandatory part of the budget, of spending, is rapidly growing while the discretionary appropriated accounts are dwindling. There’s not much money left to whittle.”
5. Hill Republicans in competitive races want to keep their distance from anything that has Trump’s name on it
The President’s approval ratings in many key swing districts across the country are low. The latest string of controversies swirling around the President and his administration with the multiple Russia investigations may make some in the GOP opt to steer clear of proposals that are pushed personally by Trump. Instead, they will emphasize areas where they split with the President, such as protecting programs that boost cancer research.