A president proposing a budget which has virtually no hope of passing in Congress has been a defining feature of American politics since the Reagan era.
When the president reveals his proposed budget to Congress, the conventional wisdom is that the contents of it are the Executive Branch’s wildest dreams.
The president knows that the legislative branch will likely never approve the proposal as written, but in putting forth grandiose — and at times even unreasonable — budgets, he can at least hope to include some of what he wants in the final product.
Allen Schick, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of Maryland who has written numerous books on the federal budget, summarizes this process quite well when he writes that “unrealistic budgeting can be a tool of presidential power.”
Surely the Trump Administration’s proposal that the Office of Management and Budget released last week falls right in line with Schick’s theory.
The document itself, which is entitled, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” is noteworthy in several respects.
At the outset, President Donald Trump declares that the blueprint is intended to “reprioritize Federal spending” in order to “advance the safety and security of the American people.”
Without safety, the document asserts, “there can be no prosperity.”
While most would agree that the federal budget needs to be reworked in some way or another, the Trump Administration’s plan for doing that is faulty and largely impractical.
And yet while we have noted that it is standard procedure for a president to propose a budget that is improbable, the blueprint that the Trump Administration has presented appears to be particularly unworkable.
Among the key provisions of the proposal are a $54 billion increase in defense spending, a 31 percent reduction in funding for the EPA, a 29 percent reduction in funding for the State Department and the proposal also calls to cut the budgets of the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture by 21 percent.
While such proposed cuts are certainly significant and indeed enormous when one considers the scope and responsibility of these federal agencies and departments, the blueprint nonetheless irresponsibly refers to them as “targeted reductions.”
Trimming the State Department and the EPA’s budget by almost one-third and reducing funding to the Departments of Labor and Agriculture by a little over one-fifth can hardly be understood as a “targeted” effort.
Moreover, if there is one sector of the government that does not need increases in federal funding, it is America’s defense budget.
As it stands currently, funding for the U.S. military is about $598.5 billion. That accounts for 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending.
The U.S. spends more on its military than any other country in the world.
So the notion that the U.S. must, in the proposal’s own words, “rebuild our Armed Forces” is ludicrous given how much money the U.S. already allocates to the military and the fact that America is universally regarded as the most powerful military in the world.
The good news is that a great deal of the blueprint will probably never be adopted by Congress, but the Trump Administration would do well to not make substantial cuts to vital federal departments and agencies, and to abandon its illogical desire to bolster spending for America’s military.
All eyes are on Congress now as they take up the Administration’s proposal. As always, the power of the purse ultimately remains with them.