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Keep Calm, but Stay Alert!

17 Mar

This week, we saw our first real glimpse into the Trump Administration’s budgetary priorities and I think it’s critical to know and understand that this is the very first, preliminary step in what will undoubtedly be a very long process.

Depending on your personal priorities, it’s easy to understand how someone could be alarmed or elated by the news of this release; however, it’s important to monitor this process, understand it, and know where, when and how to insert yourself into the conversation.  And even though it might feel like there is no way to do that, there is – just keep calm, and stay alert!

The Trump Administration’s release of the blueprint was simply an overview – without much detail – on his “America First” budget.  The blueprint does suggest an intent to reduce the size of government by implementing major cuts, but more importantly, because it was simply a blueprint, the plan released this week is devoid of detail.  The plan only addresses discretionary spending (about 1/3 of the budget).  It did not address any mandatory or entitlement spending – a category that contains major programs like Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, and farm price supports. Nor did the proposal include anything on the revenue side of the books.

The budget blueprint proposed very significant cuts to numerous non-defense discretionary programs, with the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and related international programs, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Labor facing the largest proposed reductions.

It is important to know that legislative branch of government is the only branch that can spend money – no matter what the president suggests in his budget submission.  As such – getting to know your congressional representatives and obtaining the facts on the budget as it makes its way through Congress will be critical.

Your elected officials need to hear from you, because the release of the president’s budget proposal is not the end, it’s only the beginning of this process.

Frankly, it is hard to believe that any staunch conservative is happy with this proposal.  Sure, they might be happy with an increase in defense and security spending, but it is derelict not to address the deficit, entitlement reform, or mandatory spending.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, cutting major resources from health and human services programs, foreign assistance, and health initiatives while only re-directing those resources to defense spending cannot possibly sit well with liberals in Congress.

For any of these initiatives to be implemented, a budget must be passed, and members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the committee of jurisdiction over drafting the legislation that allocates specific sums for discretionary programs each year, must make their initial moves.  Please note that although Congress has this authority, and is unlikely to accept the president’s suggestions as submitted, historically, the president’s budget proposal can influence the spending levels Congress ultimately adopts.

But safeguards do exist –

  • First, do not underestimate your voice – know the part(s) of the budget you are interested in, develop clear talking points and start calling your representatives;
  • Democrats retain the ability to filibuster appropriations bills in the Senate, and in 2015, they were very successful at maintaining a unified position that they would not consider any appropriations measures on the floor of the Senate until there was an agreement to treat defense and non-defense discretionary spending similarly;
  • Caps on discretionary spending put in place by the Budget Control Act in 2011 would prevent the kind of increases to defense spending proposed by Trump unless the caps are relaxed or the funding is channeled through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, which does not count against the BCA limits; and
  • Finally, Republicans in the House and Senate, especially members of the Appropriations Committees, are hardly united behind the President’s proposed budget plan and have already raised concerns about the plan.

 

 

 

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