The Trump Administration released a preliminary FY18 budget request (also called a “skinny budget”) to Congress on March 16. It provided funding recommendations for discretionary funding (annual appropriations) by department, with much detail left out. Those details, plus proposals for revenues and for mandatory spending areas such as Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP, are expected sometime in May. The March proposal included $54 billion in additional funding for the Pentagon, paid for by equal cuts to nondefense programs, including critical human needs programs. For example, the budget would eliminate the Community Development Block Grant, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Legal Services Corporations, the Community Services Block Grant, and others. It would also cut K-12 education funding for low-income students, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC), job training programs, and many more important programs. For a breakdown of human needs programs cut under the proposed plan, see CHN’s First Look document.
The President’s budget faced heavy backlash from the advocacy community when many organizations, including CHN, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the National Employment Law Project, the Center for Budget and Public Priorities, the National Education Association, and many more members in the community came out with statements that heavily condemned or raised deep concerns regarding the President’s priorities.
Democrats in Congress said that President Trump’s proposal was dead on arrival because of its disastrous cuts. Even many Republicans – especially Republican appropriators – said the cuts went too far and that they would make their own decisions about the FY18 budget. But 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. Adding to the difficulties of adopting the Trump budget is its large increase in Pentagon spending – well above the cap required by budget law. Increasing military spending $54 billion above the cap would require a 60 vote majority, which is unlikely.
Republicans in Congress hope 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. But they can still do a reconciliation bill for the current fiscal year. That had been envisioned as a health care bill, but its implosion has led to speculation about using such a bill to craft tax policy instead. If Congress wants to make use of this year’s reconciliation bill, they must complete it before they pass an FY18 budget resolution; that may require a delay in congressional budget resolutions until May or later. The job of passing a budget resolution may also be harder this year because of rifts within the Republican caucus as shown by the failure to pass the ACA repeal bill and because, in past budgets, Republicans have assumed $2 trillion in savings from passing such a repeal bill. 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. Failure to pass a FY18 budget does not stop Congress from working on and passing FY18 appropriations bills.
On March 21, CHN held a webinar on President Trump’s budget and the harm it would do to human needs programs. You can view a recording of the webinar and the slides here. For more information, see CHN blog pieces here and here, as well as this piece from CBPP. For more information on all things related to the FY18 budget, see CHN’s FY18 budget resource page.