President’s 2020 plan signals intent to reignite a political fight that has already led to a record 35-day partial government shutdown
Donald Trump’s latest budget request, which demands billions of dollars for a border wall at the expense of social safety nets and environmental protections, was dismissed on Monday as “dead on arrival” and “breathtaking in its degree of cruelty”.
The president unveiled a 2020 plan that includes $8.6bn for a wall on the border with Mexico, signalling his intent to reignite a political fight that has already led to a record 35-day partial government shutdown.
Trump’s budget would also increase defence spending while cutting domestic programmes by 5%, or $2.7tn over 10 years: higher than any administration in history. This is intended to curb the national debt, currently more than $22tn, a record level.
Budgets released by the White House have little chance of passing intact and tend to be statements of intent, starting points for negotiations with Congress.
Democrats gave Trump’s plan short shrift. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said: “The Trump administration’s latest budget proposal is a gut-punch to the American middle class and a handout to the wealthiest few and powerful special interests that would worsen income inequality. Its proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and social security, as well as numerous other middle-class programs, are devastating, but not surprising.”
Bernie Sanders, a member on the Senate budget committee and a Democratic candidate for president, said: “The Trump budget is breathtaking in its degree of cruelty and filled with broken promises.
“This is a budget for the military industrial complex, for corporate CEOs, for Wall Street and for the billionaire class. It is dead on arrival. We don’t need billions of dollars for a wall that no one wants. We need a budget that works for all Americans, not just Donald Trump and his billionaire friends at Mar-a-Lago.”
Titled A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept, Taxpayers First, the plan contains $32.5bn for border security and immigration enforcement activities including $8.6bn for a border wall, a signature campaign promise by Trump – although he initially insisted Mexico would pay for it. There is also $478m to hire 1,750 Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
Repeating administration talking points which experts have questioned, Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, told CNBC the “the border situation is deteriorating by the day” with “record numbers of apprehensions”.
Last month, Trump invoked an emergency declaration after Congress approved nearly $1.4bn for border barriers, far less than the $5.7bn he wanted. The emergency means he can potentially tap an additional $3.6bn from military accounts and shift it to building the wall.
But the Senate is poised this week to vote to terminate Trump’s declaration. The Democratic-led House already did so and a handful of Republican senators, uneasy over what they see as an overreach of executive power, are expected to help Democrats follow suit. Congress appears to have enough votes to reject Trump’s declaration but not enough to overturn a veto.
The budget also dedicates $750bn for defence, with priorities listed as strategic competition with Russia and China, countering regimes such as North Korea and Iran, defeating terrorist threats and consolidating gains in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some $330m is allocated to fight the opioid crisis and the proposal includes $1bn for a childcare fund that would seek to improve access to care for underserved populations, a one-time allocation championed by the president’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump.
Trump promised during his election campaign not to cut the healthcare programmes Medicare or Medicaid. But his budget would wipe billions off both, along with social security and other programmes on which many Americans depend, over the next decade. It would cut environmental protection by an estimated 31% next year and weaken the Environmental Protection Agency.
Ariel Moger, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, said: “Trump’s budget slashes programs that protect our environment, feed families and provide healthcare. The American people should not have to pay the price for Trump’s 2017 giant tax giveaway to billionaires and big oil.”
The proposal “embodies fiscal responsibility”, Vought insisted, adding that the administration has “prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending” and shown “we can return to fiscal sanity”.
The White House claims the national debt is a threat to long-term prosperity and the plan puts the federal budget on a path to balance within 15 years, relying in part on an optimistic projection of 3.1% economic growth. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects growth to slow to 1.7% in coming years.
At the first White House press briefing for six weeks, on Monday, Vought rejected criticism of Trump.
“He’s not cutting Medicare in this budget,” he told reporters. “What we are doing is putting forward reforms that will lower drug prices and that, because Medicare pays a very large share of drug prices in this country, has the impact of finding savings. We’re also finding waste, fraud and abuse, but Medicare spending will go up every single year by healthy margins and there are no structural changes for Medicare beneficiaries.”
Vought claimed Trump’s past budgets would have reduced the deficit and blamed Congress for spurning them, warning that its refusal to make trade-offs was unsustainable.
Congress will need to find agreement on spending levels to avoid another shutdown by 1 October.