- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The White House’s newly minted 2018 budget sprints toward balance over the next decade by counting on a major economic growth spurt to boost revenue and deep cuts on the spending side — all of it enhanced by more than a few gimmicks and wildly optimistic assumptions.

In short, it’s a standard presidential budget and one that is likely destined for a Capitol Hill dustbin, where it will join every blueprint Presidents Obama and George W. Bush sent to Congress.

President Trump’s plan calls for the government to spend a total of $4.1 trillion next year, up about $50 billion compared with this year. Thanks to a rising economy and growing revenue, however, Mr. Trump envisions the deficit shrinking to $440 billion next year and steadily decreasing until the budget produces a surplus in 2027.

To get there, while simultaneously ramping up military spending, Mr. Trump proposed cutting nondefense spending by 2 percent each year and predicted 3 percent economic growth — a level unseen in nearly a decade and one that analysts said will be tough to sustain.

A defiant White House warned not to underestimate Mr. Trump or the American worker.

“That is a pessimistic look at what the potential for this country and this country’s people is. We reject that pessimism,” said Mick Mulvaney, the president’s budget director.

The blueprint would put many of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises into action, including a $54 billion increase in Pentagon spending, $2.6 billion in new border security and immigration enforcement, and $29 billion to extend the Veterans Choice program for health care services.

“These are the president’s priorities put onto paper,” said Mr. Mulvaney.

The budget also rejects any changes to Medicare and Social Security retirement programs, which Mr. Trump promised not to touch.

Combined with the Pentagon’s budget, that puts the majority of federal spending off-limits for cuts. That left Mr. Trump to sweat hundreds of billions of dollars in savings out of about $1.6 trillion in basic domestic spending, resulting in proposed cuts to food stamps, welfare, Obamacare, student loans and Medicaid.

Few on Capitol Hill gave the budget much credence — though Republicans said Mr. Trump should be praised for submitting a document that eventually reaches balance, something Mr. Obama never did during his eight years.

“We’re shifting over to a president in Donald Trump that recognizes Washington has to live within its means,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called the budget numbers “guideposts” but said Congress will write its own version.

Some Republicans were itching for an even bigger boost in Pentagon spending.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called the defense budget “inadequate to the challenges we face, illegal under current law and part of an overall budget proposal that is dead on arrival in Congress.”

Democrats, meanwhile, said there is no chance the president’s domestic spending cuts will prevail.

“The Trump budget takes a sledgehammer to the middle class and the working poor, lavishes tax breaks on the wealthy and imagines all of the deficit problems away with fantasy math,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Budget analysts backed up Mr. Schumer’s accusation that Mr. Trump was using gimmicks and wild assumptions to support his blueprint.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said that if Mr. Trump’s rosy economic projections are discounted, then his budget slips from balance back into deep deficits. Substituting independent economic projections for Mr. Trump’s 3 percent growth figure would change the budget from a $16 billion surplus in 2027, as the president predicts, into a $625 billion deficit.

“Rather than making unrealistic assumptions, the president must make the hard tax and spending choices needed to truly bring the national debt under control,” said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Presidential budgets rarely affect the debate on Capitol Hill. Some of Mr. Obama’s blueprints were even rejected in unanimous votes.

But where the former president’s plans were panned as tax-and-spend fantasies, Mr. Trump’s plans are being hit from the other side as too draconian to be acceptable.

His budget promises to squeeze savings from some old standbys, such as often attempted but seldom achieved goals of eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. Setting the bar exceedingly high, it predicts saving $142 billion from blocking improper government payments.

The Trump administration also eyes $612 billion from remaking the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program and another $270 billion from welfare reforms.

The spending cuts total $3.6 trillion over a decade and quickly met criticism from Democratic lawmakers.

“This is a killer for the American people, literally a killer,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

She and her colleagues decried cuts to programs such as $193 billion from food stamps and $21 billion from Temporary Assistance for Needy Family payments.

The White House insisted that too many people were still collecting emergency benefits more than 10 years after the recession ended, including a near-record 42 million people on food stamps.

“We are not kicking anybody off of any program who really needs it,” said Mr. Mulvaney. “We have plenty of money in this country to take care of the people who need help. And we will do that. We don’t have enough money to take care of people — everybody who doesn’t need help.”

He called it a “taxpayer-first budget” that put the emphasis on not wasting funding on programs that don’t work or are being abused.

The blueprint also included some decidedly Democratic proposals.

It would spend $19 billion to establish a fully funded family leave program for new mothers and fathers. The program, which was a campaign promise spearheaded by presidential daughter Ivanka Trump, has topped Democrats’ wish list for decades.

Another olive branch to Democrats is a $200 billion outlay to leverage a $1 trillion infrastructure program.

The plan to repair and build roads, bridges, seaports and energy infrastructure was a Trump campaign pledge and an early area of agreement with Democrats, although they have been skeptical of the president’s plan for public-private partnerships to augment federal spending.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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