- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Senate Budget Committee will take up Chairman Mike Enzi’s 2020 budget proposal this week, as lawmakers hunt for new ways to turn around a bleak U.S. fiscal picture that just saw the government post its worst monthly deficit ever.

February saw the government dip $234 billion deeper into the red, as government spending soared, powered by increased payouts at the Pentagon and in Social Security and Medicare.

Mr. Enzi’s new budget tries to tame Medicare, though he leaves Social Security untouched, and offers several options on whether to continue the surge in defense spending.

But his plan does ditch the gimmicks and rosy economic assumptions that plagued President Trump’s budget, submitted to Congress earlier this month.

Mr. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, called his plan a “responsible first step” to begin to tame deficits, which are projected to top $1 trillion a year for most of the next decade. Mr. Enzi says if Congress follows his blueprint, those deficits will at least be below that mark.



“It supports reasonable reforms to mandatory spending programs and works to improve efficiency and accountability for how taxpayer dollars are spent, ensuring that government programs deliver results,” the senator said.

His committee is scheduled to consider the proposal Wednesday and Thursday this week.

With control of the House and Senate split between Democrats and Republicans, it’s all but certain that the full Congress will not pass a non-binding 2020 budget resolution this year.

Mr. Trump’s own plan, released earlier this month, says the budget can be balanced over 15 years through a combination of steep cuts in domestic programs and projections of economic growth unparalleled in modern U.S. history.

Mr. Enzi is countering with a five-year budget, which he said includes “achievable” cuts and would keep the deficit below $1 trillion a year, falling from $903 billion next year to $748 billion in 2024.

The senator says his plan leaves open the possibility of hitting Mr. Trump’s $750 billion goal for defense spending, but only if Congress can agree to a deal to raise spending caps that likely also means a spike in domestic spending — which the president has opposed.

In addition to spending cuts, Mr. Enzi’s budget plan also calls for $176 billion in unspecified revenue increases over the next five years, about half of which could be used to shore up the federal highway trust fund.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates for a balanced approach to reducing federal deficits, applauded Mr. Enzi’s plan.

“Encouragingly, it calls for any deal to increase the spending caps to be fully offset,” said Maya MacGuineas, the group’s president. “As a first step, this is what a serious budget looks like.”

Democrats, who control the House, are struggling to write a budget, pulled between left-wing lawmakers who want the budget to spend big on tackling climate change and health care, and more moderate Democrats who say those policies are unrealistic.

A spokesman for House Budget Committee Chairman John A. Yarmuth, Kentucky Democrat, said the biggest budget issue Congress faces this year is the need to raise the spending caps.

“While Sen. Enzi’s budget signals support for an increase in defense spending to a total of $750 billion in 2020, it ignores the harsh cuts to non-defense programs that are at risk this year,” spokesman Sam Lau said.

With both sides in Congress talking about increases in their preferred areas of spending, budget analysts say the victim is likely to be the deficit.

February’s record number was fueled by Congress’s deals over the last two years to cut taxes, sapping revenue, even as lawmakers agreed to massive spending increases.

All told, the government took in just $167 billion and spent $401 billion last month, the Treasury Department reported Friday.

Five months into fiscal year 2019, the government is already running a cumulative $544 billion deficit.

“This is the structural deficit at work,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a budget advocacy group. “It’s the definition of unsustainable.”

Democrats have signaled they could try to make headway on the deficit by reversing parts of the $1.5 trillion tax cut law the GOP-led Congress approved in late 2017.

Yet they’re also pushing for proposals such as universal government-sponsored health care and the Green New Deal that would easily overtake any proposed tax increases.

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