WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is reviving his border wall fight, preparing a new budget that will seek $8.6 billion for his signature project, impose steep spending cuts to other domestic programs and set the stage for another fiscal battle.
Budget documents like the one Trump is releasing Monday are often seen as just a starting point of negotiation. Fresh off the longest government shutdown in history, Trump’s 2020 proposal shows he is eager to confront Congress again to boost defence spending and cut $2.7 trillion in nondefense spending over a decade.
Titled “A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First,” Trump’s proposal “embodies fiscal responsibility,” said Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Vought said the administration has “prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending” and shows “we can return to fiscal sanity.”
Two administration officials confirmed that the border wall request was part of Trump’s spending blueprint for the 2020 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. It would pay for hundreds of miles of new barriers along the border.
Trump’s budget proposes increasing defence spending to $750 billion – and standing up the new Space Force as a military branch – while reducing nondefense accounts by 5 per cent, with cuts recommended to safety-net programs used by many Americans.
The plan sticks to budget caps that both parties have routinely broken in recent years and promises to come into balance in 15 years, relying in part on economic growth that may be uncertain.
The officials were not authorized to discuss budget details publicly before Monday’s release of the plan and spoke on condition of anonymity.
While pushing down spending in some areas, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the proposal will seek to increase funding in others to align with the president’s priorities, according to one official.
The administration will invest more than $80 billion for veterans services, a nearly 10 per cent increase from current levels, including “significant” investments in rehabilitation, employment assistance and suicide prevention.
It will also increase resources to fight the opioid epidemic with money for prevention, treatment, research and recovery, the administration said. And it seeks to shift some federal student loan costs to colleges and universities.
By adhering to strict budget caps, Trump is signalling a fight ahead. The president has resisted big, bipartisan budget deals that break the caps – threatening to veto one last year – but Congress will need to find agreement on spending levels to avoid another federal shutdown in fall. To stay within the caps, the budget shifts a portion of the defence spending to an overseas contingency fund, which some fiscal hawks will view as an accounting gimmick.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Trump’s budget “points a steady glide path” toward lower spending and borrowing as a share of the nation’s economy. He also told “Fox News Sunday” that there was no reason to “obsess” about deficits, and expressed confidence that economic growth would top 3 per cent in 2019 and beyond. Others have predicted lower growth.
But the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, called the proposed cuts to essential services “dangerous.” He said Trump added nearly $2 trillion to deficits with the GOP’s ‘tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations, and now it appears his budget asks the American people to pay the price.”
The border wall, though, remains a signature issue for the president and is poised to stay at the forefront of his agenda, even though Congress has resisted giving him more money for it.
Leading Democrats immediately rejected the proposal.
“Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York. They said the money “would be better spent on rebuilding America.”
In seeking $8.6 billion for more than 300 miles of new border wall, the budget request would more than double the $8.1 billion already potentially available to the president for the wall after he declared a national emergency at the border last month in order to circumvent Congress – although there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to use that money if he faces a legal challenge, as is expected. The standoff over the wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.
Along with border wall money, the proposed budget will also increase funding to increase the “manpower” of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Customs and Border Patrol at a time when many Democrats are calling for cuts – or even the elimination – of those areas. The budget also proposes policy changes to end sanctuary cities, the administration said.
The budget would arrive as the Senate readies to vote this week to terminate Trump’s national emergency 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 join Senate Democrats in following suit. Congress appears to have enough votes to reject Trump’s declaration but not enough to overturn a veto.
Trump invoked the emergency declaration after Congress approved nearly $1.4 billion for border barriers, far less than the $5.7 billion he wanted. In doing so, he can potentially tap an additional $3.6 billion from military accounts and shift it to building the wall. That’s causing discomfort on Capitol Hill, where even the president’s Republican allies are protective of their power to decide how to allocate federal dollars. Lawmakers are trying to guard money that’s already been approved for military projects in their states – for base housing or other improvements – for the wall. The administration is promising to backfill those funds, senators said.
The wall with Mexico punctuated Trump’s campaign for the White House, and it’s expected to again be featured in his 2020 re-election effort. He used to say Mexico would pay for it, but Mexico has refused to do so.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Palm Beach, Florida, and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.