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Trump invites a new fight with Democrats over 2020 budget; seeks $8.6 billion for wall

Posted at 12:17 PM, Mar 10, 2019

The Trump administration is headed for a budget clash with Congress, with calls for deep domestic spending cuts that lawmakers are likely to ignore as the nation's debt reaches record levels.

On Monday, President Donald Trump is set to deliver his first budget roadmap under a divided government with Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the helm of a Democratic-controlled House, and he is expected to face fierce resistance to severe proposed cuts on education, health and environmental protections.

The White House is proposing a 5% cut across federal agencies, except for defense spending, as part of its budget plan for fiscal year 2020, which begins on October 1. The proposed cuts come just as Congress will need to decide -- yet again this year -- whether to lift spending caps put into place by law in 2011.

A White House official confirms Trump will ask for $8.6 billion for a border wall, and an additional $3.6 billion in military construction funds to pay back monies that the administration hopes will be spent this year that the President redirected by executive authority.

Congress holds the purse strings of what the government is willing to spend, and Democrats demonstrated their ability to stay unified during the partial government shutdown.

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, said at a hearing last week that she would fight to ensure robust funding for critical programs overseen by the committee, including reversing steps by the administration to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"The Trump administration has also consistently put forth budget proposals that make massive cuts to programs that protect the nation's most vulnerable families," Waters said.

Trump has previously proposed deep spending cuts on domestic programs as well as entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security every year of his presidency, and each time Congress has ignored them.

The President's proposal, however, may offer clues about the President's desire to get funding for a border wall and whether he will earmark money to repair the nation's roads and bridges as part of an infrastructure deal.

The White House official notes that the forthcoming request for wall funding is different than in previous years when the White House asked for wall money from just one funding source: the Department of Homeland Security (more specifically, CBP). This year, the White House will ask for $5 billion from Customs and Border Protection, but will also request $3.6 billion in military construction funds from the Pentagon.

In addition, the budget contains a request for another $3.6 billion in military construction funds -- but these would be used to "backfill" what the administration hopes to spend this year as a result of the emergency declaration. In other words, the White House is requesting money to pay back the funds that Trump redirected with executive authority, and officials are not counting that sum in the topline number they say they're requesting for the wall (at least $8.6 billion).

The amount of the wall request was first reported by Reuters .

Traditionally, the White House releases its budget proposal to Congress by the first Monday in February, but it was delayed this year due to the shutdown.

In late February, Trump's acting budget chief Russell Vought previewed in an op-ed "historic" cuts in discretionary spending and rolled out plans to employ a war contingency fund as a maneuver to get around the defense budget limit.

"The level of borrowing is unsustainable, and is one of the largest threats to our nation's economic future," Vought wrote in the op-ed.

It's been unclear whether the 5% cut would be in addition to a 9% cut that would be forced by the budget caps set to kick in for the 2020 fiscal year.

Mick Mulvaney, the former chief at the Office of Management Budget who is now the White House acting chief of staff, was a major opponent of what's known as the Overseas Contingency Operations to make up for the cuts to the base defense budget.

Mulvaney, a self-proclaimed deficit hawk, has more recently relented when it comes to efforts by the administration to balance the budget ad crack down on federal spending. Instead, the administration has pledged to balance the budget within a 10-year budget window.

During his 2017 confirmation hearing for the OMB role, Mulvaney told lawmakers "he look(ed) forward to having an opportunity to explain to the President why I think it is not a good way to spend American taxpayer dollars."

Democrats have already denounced the administration's maneuver as a budget "gimmick" that would obscure the true costs of the military operations and shortchange other national priorities.

"Rather than being honest and responsible about his budgeting, the President is choosing to deceive the American public yet again," said Kentucky Democrat Rep. John Yarmuth, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat, in a joint statement in response to Vought's op-ed.

The President's budget is also expected to include a $100 million for the Women's Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, a White House official told CNN.

The President's daughter, Ivanka Trump, led the creation of the initiative, which was announced last month.

The debate on spending and budget caps will also inevitably intertwine with negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, which kicked back in on March 2.

The federal borrowing limit set by Congress now stands roughly over $22 trillion, a record high. Treasury has already begun to use "extraordinary measures," a tactic both Democratic and Republican administrations have used to continue to pay the country's IOUs.

The ceiling was initially intended to control spending by the federal government, but instead Congress has continued to approve increases to accommodate continued borrowing.

And even though the country reached its debt limit, the Congressional Budget Office estimates Treasury will be able to pay its bills through the fall of 2019.

Democrats for the last two years have blasted Trump's tax cuts for increasing the federal deficit, which the CBO projects will surpass $1 trillion by 2020.

Critics of the President's backed tax cut say it will add an additional $1.9 trillion to the nation's debt. Last year, Trump also reluctantly signed a massive $1.3 trillion spending bill after Democrats pushed for bigger budgets for health and education in exchange for a boost in military spending.

The White House has claimed that the tax cuts will pay for themselves and have been a driving factor in boosting the US economy, and blamed Democrats for the rising deficit after pushing for spending increases last year.

Trump's budget proposal also comes ahead of yet another major fiscal issue that Congress will have to face this year. Lawmakers will need to decide how to resolve the remaining years of spending caps required under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

The law set caps on the government's discretionary spending for a 10-year period. It also included separate limits on defense and non-defense spending that would be triggered by automatic, across-the-board spending cuts.

Unless Congress acts to raise them this year, the $647 billion limit on regular defense spending will drop by $71 billion, or an 11% cut, before adjusting for inflation. The non-discretionary spending cap would fall to $542 billion, or 9% percent.

Lawmakers have repeatedly -- in 2013, 2015 and 2018 -- chosen to raise the caps on spending in two-year increments.

"This is not sustainable or responsible," said Yarmuth at a House Budget hearing earlier this week. "We need to raise the caps, for both defense and non-defense spending, to ensure that every American family has the chance to build a better future."