President Donald Trump on Wednesday instructed every agency secretary in his Cabinet to cut 5% from their budget for next year.
“I think you’ll all be able to do it. There may be a special exemption, perhaps. I don’t know who that exemption would be,” Trump told Cabinet members during a meeting at the White House.
Trump added “some people at the table” could cut “substantially more” than 5% of their budgets.
“There are some people here at the table, I’m not going to point you out, but there are some people that can do substantially more than that. Because now that we have our military taken care of, we have our law enforcement taken care of, we can do things that we really weren’t in a position to do when I first came,” he said.
Democrats in Congress have blamed the Republican tax plan for ballooning the deficit.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren claimed it amounted to a “$1.5 trillion in tax giveaways to wealthy donors.”
The federal deficit, essentially the difference between the federal government’s revenue and how much it spent, rose to $779 billion in fiscal year 2018, up 17% from last year, according to final figures released Monday by the Treasury Department. That’s the largest number since 2012, when the country was still spending massively to stimulate an economy struggling to recover.
The White House has steadfastly defended its policies, maintaining that the yawning gap is a reason to cut deeper into social programs to balance out increases to the military budget.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a notable debt hawk while he was a congressman, said the numbers underscored a need to cut spending. Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested in an interview with CNN that Democrats’ resistance to cutting government spending on education, health care and other social programs was to blame for deficit increases.
“People are going to want to say the deficit is because of the tax cuts. That’s not the real story,” Mnuchin told CNN. “The real story is we made a significant investment in the military which is very, very important, and to get that done we had to increase non-military spending.”
Government spending rose 3% over the previous year, fueled in part by increases to the defense budget agreed upon in September 2017 as part of a deal between Republicans and Democrats to head off a government shutdown. Social Security and interest on the federal debt also contributed to the increase.
The President acknowledged Wednesday he gave the Defense Department budget a significant boost since the start of his administration, but it will be part of the agencies which he is requesting a cut from.
“We know what the new budget is for the Defense Department. It will probably be $700 billion. So, it’s $716 (billion right now) … and that’s a very substantial number but it’s important. It’s defense,” Trump said.
The President also said he “made deals with the devil” – apparently referring to Democrats – to ensure the rebuilding of the US military.
“I made deals with the devil in order to get that done, ‘cause we had to improve our military. Our military was depleted. It was in bad shape,” he said. “In order to get that (I had to make a deal with Democrats).”
Trump made similar remarks earlier Wednesday, saying that in order to rebuild the military, he had to give in to the Democrats.
“I call it waste money. Things that I never would have approved,” he said.
Not many non-military spending categories increased, however. Outlays for the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy and Education all decreased, while Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs increased slightly. The Agriculture Department saw a 7% bump from last year.
CNN’s Lydia DePillis contributed to this report.