- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

President Trump’s budget has done the nearly unthinkable — it has united Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who said Tuesday that the $4.7 trillion plan is already in the dustbin and they’re looking past it toward another two-year deal to increase spending caps.

The White House urged Congress this week to stick by the caps, imposed under a 2011 budget deal between President Obama and House Republicans, which would ratchet discretionary spending down by $126 billion next year.

Key lawmakers, though, said that’s a non-starter.

“The budget is a disaster — a total disaster. Worse than last year and the year before,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, New Jersey Democrat. “They want us to bail them out of the mess they put us in — that’s why they’re talking about caps.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, ruled out the budget plan’s proposed cuts to programs under his jurisdiction, saying he thought of them more as a suggestion than a directive.

“I think it’s somewhat, at least, a political statement of where the administration [would] like to be,” Mr. Roberts said. “I do know there’s a lot of cuts to agriculture — we just passed a farm bill. We’re not going to do that.”

If Congress isn’t going to make the president’s proposed cuts, the conversation will quickly shift to just how much higher lawmakers will allow spending to rise.

Any increase would require a deal to break the 2011 caps.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said that must be part of the debate.

“The only way we can begin a productive budget and appropriations process is by committing to honest and realistic budgeting and reaching an agreement to raise the caps for discretionary spending,” the Kentucky Democrat said as he kicked off a hearing Tuesday on Mr. Trump’s budget request.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey said the administration’s budget was borne of ignorance.

“They just got into government and they don’t know how the appropriations committee works, so maybe they should do some learning and spend some time understanding,” said Ms. Lowey, New York Democrat.

The budget is made up of three moving parts: Entitlement spending, such as Social Security and Medicare, is set in permanent law and rises automatically as benefits are paid out. Discretionary spending, meanwhile, covers the Defense Department, education, law enforcement, emergency management, and other basic government services. The final moving part is revenue.

Democrats say solving persistent deficits will require revenue increases. Conservatives say it will take trims to the entitlement programs, which are the big drivers of the growing debt.

The White House, though, says it won’t ignore the discretionary side, which is about 30 percent of the annual budget.

“This is the process that’s not on autopilot, and so what we’re trying to prompt a debate with this Congress is to say yes, let’s talk about mandatory spending … but not at the expense of continuing to increase agencies year-over-year [in] what they are allowed to spend,” said Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Mr. Trump’s proposal would cut domestic discretionary programs, while increasing defense spending. But it would hide that defense spending in emergency war money to try to protect it from the budget caps.

Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said Mr. Trump likely will have to accept some kind of increase for domestic spending or settle for yet another stopgap funding bill that would temporarily extend government funding at current levels.

“It’s just the politics of the matter — they’re not going to let us do $32 billion that we want to do [for defense] and then they take tens of billions of cuts. It’s just not going to happen that way,” Mr. Cole said. “If you want to do more — which I’m a defense hawk so I don’t have any problem with that — you’re going to have to spend more domestically, or accept the lower number.”

Other Republicans said they, too, expect to work on a deal to raise the caps, but they said Mr. Trump will have some say.

“I think we’ve got to find a way, and I think we were pushing for a two-year caps deal [because] that’s how we were as successful as we were the past year,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican. “I think anything’s possible, but it has to be worked in conjunction with the White House and so we’ll just have to see how accepting they want to be.”

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