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It was the first shot fired in what will likely be one of the most far-reaching and dramatic fights of the year. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 landed Monday with a literal thud on Capitol Hill, kicking off the budget battle between the White House and Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
The White House’s $4.75 trillion proposed budget is not expected to become law. But don’t let that fool you. The proposal is significant, both for how it started the politically bloody spending fight ahead (including funding for the border wall), and for its use of classic budget stunts.
Here are some glaring gimmicks (and big debates) in the proposed budget.
This is the marquee spending battle in recent years. Who gets more money: The military or everything else? Trump proposed giving huge increases to the military while enacting historic cuts to non-military agencies. That would be a dramatic sea change, after years where Congress treated defense spending and non-defense spending almost equally. Non-defense includes most Cabinet agencies, such as the EPA and departments of Education, State, and Health and Human Services. (Social Security, Medicare and other “mandatory spending” programs are not part of the defense/non-defense debate.)
Trump would increase defense spending nearly 5 percent in fiscal year 2020, which begins Oct. 1. He would use something called the “Overseas Contingency Operations” fund, known as OCO, which began as emergency spending after 9/11 but now is used as a kind of unspecified, open bonus fund for military spending. Trump would send a near-record $165 billion in open-ended funding to the Pentagon via OCO. Defense would see an even larger increase, at 8.9 percent, over 10 years.
The White House says that the president would cut the non-defense part of the budget by about 5 percent. But if you look more deeply, the year-to-year cut is more like 9 percent. How does the president justify a lower figure? In part, using items called “CHIMPs.” These are budget decoys that can look like billions in savings but often count savings that are not real. It’s a gimmick at best and phony math at worst. The non-defense cut over 10 years is even sharper: 16.6 percent.
This year’s blistering shutdown battle ended with Congress funding $1.3 billion for border fencing, which is the same number Trump requested when Republicans controlled both chambers last year. Now, under the new budget proposal, Trump is requesting five times more: $8.6 billion for 200 miles of wall.
This is not all political line-in-the-sand drawing. The president’s budget also has a few items that could get bipartisan traction. Those include proposals to bring down prescription drug prices, require some family leave time, increase funding to fight HIV and AIDS, and start increasing spending on infrastructure.
Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
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