Dems: Trump budget is recipe for shutdown

Dems: Trump budget is recipe for shutdown
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House Democratic leaders are warning Republicans that President Trump’s 2018 budget is a recipe for a government shutdown.

Trump has yet to unveil his finalized budget blueprint for next year, but an initial outline released in March — dubbed a “skinny budget” — proposed a $54 billion increase in defense spending, accompanied by offsetting cuts to domestic programs favored by the Democrats.

If GOP leaders adhere to that unbalanced approach, the Democrats cautioned Thursday, a shutdown is guaranteed. 

“[There’s] no chance this could happen, so if you want to shut the government down, keep talking about this skinny budget,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters during a press briefing outside the Capitol.

The Republicans control both chambers of Congress, but the Democrats’ filibuster powers in the Senate — combined with the repeated inability of GOP leaders to secure 218 votes on fiscal bills in the House — lend the minority party plenty of leverage in the 2018 spending fight. And they say they intend to use it.

“They’re going to need our votes to pass anything,” said Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment House rejects Democrat's resolution to impeach Trump Dem plans to force House floor vote on impeaching Trump MORE (D-Ky.), senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee. 

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Trump’s skinny budget offered few details, but outlined a sharp shift in spending for the military at the expense of non-defense domestic programs. At the agency level, the blueprint proposed a 31 percent cut to the Environment Protection Agency; a 29 percent cut to the State Department; and 21 percent cuts to the Labor and Agriculture departments, among other steep agency-level reductions.

While individual program cuts were not specified, spending reductions of that magnitude would necessarily lead to the gutting of a long list of domestic programs, including many that disproportionately benefit low-income people. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) characterized the plan as a “punch in the gut” to programs such as Head Start and food stamps — ultimately being “a cruel joke” on the working-class Americans, many of whom backed Trump in November.

“It is a pretense,” echoed Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip. “It is an ideological document — not a document that will ever be implemented.” 

White House budgets are generally not passed by Congress, even when the president’s party holds the Speaker’s gavel. But the issue of parity between defense and non-defense spending is sure to rank among the tougher fights surrounding whatever 2018 funding strategy the Republicans adopt.

GOP leaders crowed in March, when Congress passed an omnibus spending package to keep the government running through the remainder of fiscal year 2017, which ends Oct. 1. Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) was quick to note the package included a hike in defense spending that transcended that of domestic programs — a victory in the eyes of Republicans, after years of former President Obama demanding equal treatment of both.

“This forced parity that we lived under under the Obama years really constrained our ability to rebuild our military for this century. This appropriations bill changes all of that,” Ryan said at the time. 

“No longer are the needs of our military going to be held hostage for increases in domestic spending.” 

But Democrats dispute that claim, noting that the 2017 omnibus included a supplemental White House request for more military spending. Take away that supplemental, they say, and there was the same parity the Democrats have demanded since spending caps were set by the Budget Control Act in 2011. 

Yarmuth and the Democrats say they’ll insist on that parity once more in September, when Congress must pass another appropriations package to keep the government running into fiscal 2018.

“We don’t want to pit teachers against soldiers,” Yarmuth said.

Trump’s expanded 2018 budget plan is expected to arrive next week. It’s unclear when Republican leaders on the House Budget Committee will unveil their own blueprint, but Yarmuth said the Democrats expect the package to be marked up in the second week of June.