Presidential budget proposals are never more than just wish lists, a sort-of State of the Union speech in spreadsheet form. Even with that in mind, Donald Trump’s FY2020 bid has even fewer chances than usual to survive in any form when Congress begins its budget process in the next few weeks. The most interesting part of the White House proposal is a demand for nearly twice as much border-wall money than was at stake during the shutdown — an almost literal doubling down on Trump’s political strategy:
CNN’s @mkraju breaks down President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal, which includes a demand for $8.6 billion for the border wall.
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) March 11, 2019
Needless to say, as Manu Raju does nonetheless, the Democratic majority in the House will not offer Trump a single dollar on the border wall … again. Using an emergency declaration to unlock $3.6 billion this time around poisoned the well for FY2020, although it’s possible that Trump won’t need to worry about it. If Trump can win on his declaration in court — and there’s a reasonably good chance of that — he can continue to redirect funds in each budget year until the emergency comes to an end. Trump could simply redirect funds again, and again, and again, depending on whether he wins re-election and Congress falls short of overturning vetoes on nullifying bills such as the one coming to the Senate this week.
The most ambitious part of the proposal doesn’t relate to the border wall at all. Perhaps stung by accusations of having abandoned his campaign promises on national debt, Trump has outlined significant cuts to federal spending outside of national-security areas. The reductions would cut nearly $3 trillion in spending over the next decade, mostly in safety-net programs:
Calling for a total of $2.7 trillion in reductions, the Trump administration is also taking aim at safety net programs, including hundreds of billions in cuts to Medicare and a request to drum up savings by imposing new restrictions on food stamps, housing assistance and aid to families that don’t make enough money to provide for their children.
Trump’s budget would impose mandatory work-requirements for millions of people who receive welfare assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid and housing programs.
It seeks to cut $220 billion from food stamps over the course of a decade, once again promoting the Trump administration’s widely panned harvest box proposal, which would take billions in SNAP benefits that are spent in grocery stores and divert the money to supplying low-income people with boxes of wholesale staple foods.
Needless to say, these proposals will be dead on arrival in the House too. The “harvest box” idea fell flat among Republicans the last time the White House floated it, and for good reason. It amounts to a single-payer food system that doubles down in its own way, in this case on paternalism. The White House had to know after last year’s failure that this wasn’t going anywhere now that the GOP lost control of the House.
So why offer it again? For one thing, presidential budget proposals stopped being serious documents years ago, perhaps decades ago, so, er … why the hell not? Republicans used to poke fun at Barack Obama’s proposals by forcing Senate Democrats to vote on them, which usually wound up with unanimous opposition to the proposals. Nancy Pelosi might try the same trick with House Republicans this time around to force them into voting for foodboxes and steep cuts in welfare, or more likely voting against both and risking the ire of some conservatives and Trump populists. Think of it as the mirror image of Mitch McConnell’s upcoming vote on the Green New Deal and you’ll get the idea.
Besides, now Trump can parry criticism over his deficit spending by claiming to have offered a solution to it. And actually, this isn’t necessarily a bad argument. Everyone claims to worry about the deficit, but no one’s willing to cut spending. No one’s willing to reform the entitlement programs that really drive it, Trump included, for that matter. In a system that rewards posing, we’re getting exactly what we want. And deserve.