Five things to watch for in Trump’s 2020 budget

UPI Photo

President Trump will release his budget proposal for fiscal 2020 on Monday.

The actual numbers will be set by Congress, and with Democrats in control of the House, Trump’s budget won’t go far.

But the president’s blueprint will be a guide to his agenda under the new divided Congress and a road map to the budget fights looming in the coming year and as attention shifts to the next election.

Here are five things to watch for in Trump’s budget blueprint.

A big boost to defense spending

The Trump administration is set to propose another boost to defense spending, a move that will be cheered by Republicans.

But the hike comes through a tactic that Democrats have denounced as a “gimmick” they believe will allow damaging cuts to domestic programs.

{mosads}The White House will propose increasing defense spending by boosting a Pentagon war fund known as the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account.

It’s a way to meet the Republican priority of increasing military spending without raising the caps on spending that were set in 2011. The move is essentially aimed at increasing defense spending without reaching a deal with Democrats to raise domestic spending.

The White House is touting the plan as a return to fiscal discipline.

But House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) denounced a preview of the move as a “gimmick to prop up defense spending” that would “severely shortchange other investments vital to our national and economic security.”

OCO funds have been the subject of controversy in the past. The funds are intended to be used for the country’s wars in the Middle East, but critics, including some Republicans, have derided OCO as a military slush fund.

Deep cuts to domestic spending

The flip side of the move to increase only defense spending is an expected deep cut to domestic spending.

Returning to the budget caps set in 2011 would mean a cut of $55 billion to domestic spending. And the White House could propose additional cuts on top of that.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told CNBC on Friday that he expects to see a “path towards lower deficits as a share of GDP” and a 5 percent reduction in domestic spending “across the board.”

President Trump has not prioritized deficit reduction so far. But after the signing of a massive tax cut bill and increases in government spending, Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought  sought to put a focus on the deficit in an op-ed last month.

He pointed out that the national debt is now over $22 trillion.

“Unfortunately, too many lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t see this as a reason for caution,” he wrote. “They simply cannot admit that Washington has a spending problem and they have not worked with President Trump to address it.”

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said there needs to be a focus on the debt. But she cautioned that the budget should avoid gimmicks and unattainable goals in favor of “savings that are likely to pass and likely to stay in place.”

The border wall

The budget also will be a key signal of how much harder Trump wants to push on his signature priority, the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump asking for a significant additional sum for the wall in his budget would be a sign that he intends to keep up his push for congressional funding even as he looks to make an end run around lawmakers to begin work on the project.

Trump was rebuffed by Congress after he sought $5.7 billion for the wall. The impasse led to the longest government shutdown in American history.

Trump eventually agreed to sign a spending deal reopening the government but without his wall funding. And he later took the extraordinary step of declaring a national emergency to help him access $8 billion in other funds for the wall.

The move also raised concerns from conservatives over the precedent Trump was establishing with an emergency declaration and from defense hawks who worried about redirecting money intended for military construction

The emergency declaration is already facing a legal challenge in the court, and opponents in Congress have the votes to send a resolution blocking the emergency declaration to Trump’s desk. They do not have the two-thirds majority needed to overturn Trump’s promised veto, though.


While the legislative effort to repeal ObamaCare is dead, Democrats are eager to try to score political points if Trump again calls for repealing the law in his budget.

“Despite the American people speaking out loud and clear against the GOP’s health care agenda last November, we may once again see an attempt to gut Americans’ health security through a repeal and replace provision,” House Budget Committee Democrats wrote Thursday.

Last year, the White House budget endorsed legislation from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and called for cuts to Medicaid by capping payments in the program.

Joel Friedman, a vice president at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that endorsing an ObamaCare repeal in the budget would indicate Trump’s “likely opposition to any Republican efforts to come to terms with the ACA and move on from repeal.”

On a more bipartisan note in health care, the budget will provide Trump a chance to lay out priorities for reducing prescription drug prices, an area where there is potential for him to work with the Democratic House majority.

Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have already voiced optimism about working together on that topic, and the budget gives Trump a chance to put forward some ideas Democrats could accept.

A smaller budget cut that could catch fire

Amid the slew of proposed funding cuts, certain items that are small in the overall scheme of the budget can often elicit outrage.

Last year, for example, Trump’s budget attracted widespread attention when it called for eliminating federal funding for PBS and NPR through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“Why Are Trump and the G.O.P. So Determined to Kill PBS?” read a headline in Vanity Fair last year.

Advocates for issues across the board will be taking a magnifying glass to Trump’s budget looking for any controversial proposals.

Friedman said he is on alert this year for proposed cuts in areas such as food stamps and low-income housing assistance that “if implemented would increase poverty and hardship.”

Tags Adam Smith Bill Cassidy Donald Trump John Yarmuth Lindsey Graham Nancy Pelosi

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video