President Trump tried to sound powerful when he announced that he had ordered his cabinet members to come up with five percent reductions in their fiscal 2020 department or agency budget.
Here’s why Trump’s plan is actually the total opposite of bold.
1. The plan isn’t for the current year (fiscal 2019); it’s for 2020, the budget that Trump is legally required to submit to Congress early next year and won’t start to be implemented almost a year from now. In the meantime, Trump’s own Department of Treasury and Office of Management and Budget project that the deficit will grow by $306 billion to almost $1.1 trillion. Trump isn’t proposing to do anything about that.
2. Trump could have proposed that Congress “un-appropriate” spending in the current year by using the impoundment control procedures specified in the Congressional Budget Act. He didn’t.
3. Trump’s pronouncement was that his cabinet come up with a plan to reduce “discretionary” spending within their agency or department. That’s only about 25 percent — roughly $1.1 trillion — of the total amount expected to be spent in 2019.
(Note: The $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending is roughly equivalent to the total projected 2019 deficit. Trump would have to propose to eliminate all of it to completely balance the budget this year.)
4. If Trump had wanted to propose something impactful he would have included most of the rest of the budget — mandatory spending other than interest on the national debt. But just before the election that would have subjected him to the very politically damaging charge that he was going to propose cuts in Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits.
5. There is a strong possibility that this wasn’t even the new order Trump made it out to be. Asking cabinet departments to develop different spending-cut scenarios (-2 percent, -5 percent, etc.) is the standard procedure every president uses early in the year to formulate the budget. There’s a good chance, therefore, that the cuts Trump just said he ordered were actually developed around this past June.
In other words, the Trump five percent cut plan was just about the least he could say he would do and still sound like he was doing something.
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