WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump has proposed a $1.15 trillion budget, but it’s hardly the final word on how the federal government will spend taxpayer dollars.
His budget is more of a blueprint than a binding document. The real power of the purse rests with Congress.
Already, lawmakers have found plenty to dislike: Fiscal conservatives wanted to see cuts to benefit programs, defense hawks want more military spending and Democrats reject the deep cuts to domestic programs.
That leaves Trump and his Republican majority in Congress facing weeks — if not months — of high-risk political wrangling. Failure to reach an agreement could result in a government shutdown, an outcome that cost the government and economy billions of dollars in 2013.
WHAT’S IN IT
Trump’s budget proposal covers discretionary spending. That’s the roughly $1 trillion portion of the $4 trillion that the federal government spends that Congress must approve every year by passing specific spending legislation.
The majority of federal spending is in benefit programs, like Social Security and Medicare. Also called “entitlements” or “mandatory” programs, they can only be changed by revising the underlying laws that created them.
Trump’s discretionary budget would boost Pentagon spending by $54 billion — about 10 percent — and make a down payment on his promised border wall, while cutting domestic programs and foreign aid by an equal amount.
Twelve of the government’s 15 Cabinet agencies would absorb cuts under the president’s proposal. The biggest losers are Agriculture, Labor, State, and the Cabinet-level EPA. The Defense Department, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs are the winners.
Congressional approval is likely to involve a tough fight.
Though many of Trump’s cuts hit conservative targets, like the National Endowment for the Arts and low-income heating assistance programs, others take aim at strong congressional favorites, including medical research, rural school aid and help for homeless veterans.
Before lawmakers can address what to do in 2018, they have to deal with the remainder of this year.
A temporary bill that’s currently funding the government expires at the end of April. To avoid a partial government shutdown on April 29, Congress must pass and Trump must sign a spending bill or, at the very least, an additional extension of current funding levels.
It may be a hard sell. With Republicans holding just 52 votes in the Senate, Democratic voters are needed to reach the 60 vote threshold for passage. While Democrats don’t want to be blamed for shutting down the government, they’re also under pressure from their base to block Trump at every turn. And anything that Democrats would approve is likely to alienate the conservative Republicans in the House.
In May, Trump will present the rest of his budget. It will include the White House outlook for the economy, as well as tax proposals, and plans for reducing the deficit.
Economists say tackling the deficit would entail curbs on popular benefit programs, but Trump has repeatedly promised not to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Around the same time, Congress is likely to be working on its own budget. The congressional budget resolution has to be completed in order to accommodate Trump’s promise to overhaul tax laws.
WHAT MAKES IT TRICKIER
All this time, Congress must keep working on spending bills for the 2018 budget year. Known as “appropriations” bills, they deal with the roughly $1 trillion in annual spending covered by the budget that Trump released Thursday.
To avoid another government shutdown crisis, such legislation must pass by Oct. 1.
Congress does not have a good track record of meeting that deadline. Usually what happens is that leaders convene budget talks to avoid a shutdown.
That happened repeatedly during former President Barack Obama’s administration. It’s usually resolved by passing a “continuing resolution” that maintains funding at current levels and avoids a partial shutdown of government operations.
But partisanship can also get in the way, precipitating a crisis.
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