The Trump Administration is expected to submit a preliminary FY18 budget request (also called a “skinny budget”) to Congress on March 15 or 16. This plan is expected to cover only spending that is annually appropriated by Congress (“discretionary” spending), not mandatory spending or taxes and revenues. A more detailed budget is expected later in the spring. Advocates are concerned about reports that say budget proposals from President Trump may be similar to that from the Heritage Foundation, which would make unprecedented cuts, slashing Medicaid, SNAP, Medicare, Head Start, and other critical human needs programs.
In fact, President Trump has said his budget will include $54 billion in additional funding for the Pentagon, paid for by equal cuts to nondefense programs, including human needs programs. The Washington Post reported on March 12 that the domestic and international cuts would require substantial reductions in the federal workforce and on March 8 that the Administration is considering more than $6 billion in cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), cutting its budget by 14 percent. This could include cutting $4 billion in community planning and development grants, $300 million from direct rental assistance (including Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and rental vouchers for homeless veterans), $42 million – nearly 10 percent – from housing for the elderly, $29 million – nearly 20 percent – from housing for people with disabilities, and $150 million – more than 20 percent – from Native American housing block grants. In response to the report, Diane Yentel, head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called the cuts “unconscionable and unacceptable.” She noted that, even before these cuts, an estimated 10,000 public housing units are each year due to chronic underfunding and inflation. With these proposed cuts to Housing Choice Vouchers, more than 200,000 families could lose critical support. There is already a national shortage of 7.4 million homes affordable and available to the lowest income people in the U.S, and just one in four low-income people in need of assistance get the help they need. Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, responded to the report by saying, “It’s a slap in the face of working Americans, urban communities, to suggest that you should make all these cuts to buy more tankers, aircraft carriers and missile systems.” Other press reports have cited Administration plans to slash environmental protection programs and eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, the Corporation for National and Community Service (including Americorps), arts and humanities programs, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but these reports have not been publicly confirmed by the Trump Administration. It is also not clear how many program details like these will be included in the mid-March release.
Congress is also looking ahead to FY18 – sort of. Earlier reports stated that the House had started working on a FY18 budget resolution, but according to CQ, work on that is on hold until after Congress passes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (for more on this topic, see the related article in this Human Needs Report). Congress hopes to use a special process known as reconciliation with the FY18 budget resolution that would allow them to pass tax reform, and possibly reforms to entitlement programs, with only a simple majority in the Senate, just as they are doing with the ACA repeal legislation in FY17. But to do this, they must complete the FY17 reconciliation process before they can pass an FY18 budget resolution. A budget resolution is a plan through which Congress sets certain spending/taxation rules for itself; it does not go to the President for his signature and does not become law.
While even some Republicans have pushed back against the $54 billion in cuts to nondefense discretionary programs that President Trump is calling for, advocates are still concerned that the House GOP budget will contain massive cuts that would be devastating to human needs programs. Any additional cuts would be on top of sequestration-level funding, which is scheduled to go back into effect for FY18 unless a bipartisan budget deal is reached to lift the spending caps.
Some Republicans in Congress, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), are calling for a FY18 base defense budget, excluding war costs, of $640 billion. This is more than $91 billion above the amount permitted by current law. For more on this additional funding request and Sen. McCain’s request for FY18, see the Feb. 21 Human Needs Report.