President Trump’s Budget Slashes Spending, Boosts Defense

The White House unveiled its budget for fiscal year 2020 this week and it looks to be the most serious effort made to curtail spending on the nation’s non-defense-related programs to date.

“In the last two years, President Trump and this Administration have prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending,” said Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russ Vought from the White House on Monday in unveiling the plan.

“Our national debt nearly doubled under the previous Administration and now stands at more than $22 trillion. This Budget shows that we can return to fiscal sanity without halting our economic resurgence while continuing to invest in critical priorities,” he added.

The budget cuts $845 billion from Medicare over ten years, which amounts to about a 10% cut to the program. It cuts $1.5 trillion from Medicaid, adding $1.2 trillion instead to a “Market Based Health Care Grant,” a block grant to states. It’s unclear whether that grant will be part of Medicaid or a its own, standalone program.

The budget also cuts $25 billion from Social Security over the same time period.

The blueprint can be seen as a tradeoff between safety net spending and spending on defense as the budget adds $34 billion to defense spending next year alone, bringing the total defense budget to $750 billion.

Notably, the President is also calling for $8.6 billion for construction of a border wall along the southern border. The federal government shut down for a record 35 days in December and January over an impasse over funding for a border wall.

Democrats on Capitol Hill condemned the proposal.

“Yet again, the President has proposed shortsighted cuts that would slash investments in infrastructure, medical research, and American families, cuts that have been rejected by Congress two fiscal years in a row,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said.

It is “dead on arrival and divorced from reality,” he added.

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), a member of the House Budget Committee, in a statement emailed to ITN, said the budget highlights the President’s priorities: using cuts from programs middle class Americans rely on to provide tax cuts to the nation’s wealthiest.

The President’s budget “would gut countless programs that protect public health, invest in our roads and bridges, and help American workers support their families…Make no mistake: President Trump’s 2020 budget tells working people to foot the bill for stock buybacks and CEO bonuses,” Boyle’s statement read.

Democrats have indicated they will not be voting on a budget this year to avoid intraparty battling. “We’re still proceeding as if we’re going to do one, but we’re also considering other options because we don’t know if we can get 218 votes for anything,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, said this week.

A federal budget has to be approved by both houses of Congress and signed by the President in order to keep the government open past the end of the fiscal year. The U.S. Government’s fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Photo by The White House

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President Trump Looks to Modernize, Reform Federal Employee Work Force

The Trump administration is planning several reforms to the federal Civil Service that would give agencies more discretion on hiring/firing, transfer of employees and pay decisions.  The reforms, based on successful strategies employed by private-sector powerhouses like Google and Amazon, are laid out in the President’s budget to be released Monday.

The changes call for an end to automatic pay increases all federal employees receive regardless of performance.  Annual reviews that give most employees high grades would be reformed, and federal benefits, which are 47% higher than in the private workforce would be decreased.

Hiring and firing decisions would be made easier, agencies would have more flexibility in moving employees to where they are needed, hiring skilled retirees would be made possible and the “best” employees would be rewarded with bonuses.  The goal, officials said, is to bring the 1950s-styled Civil Service into the future.

President Trump alluded to the changes in his State of the Union address last week when he said, “Tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

“We’re 18 years into the digital millennium. We need to look at a different way,” an administration budget official said.


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The Federal Government Shuts Down for Five Hours Then Reopens Overnight

The Federal Government shut down for five and a half ours overnight, then reopened as Congress got a sufficient number of votes in line to pass a massive spending bill that will keep the government funded.  The deal increases spending on domestic programs, as well as defense, making it appealing to just enough members on either side of the aisle to get it passed.  It does not, however, include any provisions on immigration.

Senator Rand Paul held a vote up in the Senate over the massive levels of spending in the bill.  The bill includes $300 billion in increased spending over the next two years including increases of $80 billion for defense and over $60 billion for domestic programs.  The deal also raised the debt limit so that it won’t be reached again until March 2019.  It also contained $90 billion in disaster relief for hurricanes and wildfires.

Paul wanted a vote on an amendment that would have kept Congress under strict budget caps, as well as removed the debt limit provision from the package.  Because the budget deal was filed late on Wednesday, consent from all 100 senators was needed to hold a vote before the deadline at midnight.  Any one senator could have held the vote up, and Paul did.

Paul pleaded with other Senators from the Senate Floor to rein runaway spending in.  “Your grandkids are being stuck with the bill! Mark my words, the stock market is jittery,” Paul said. “It’s worth a debate whether we should borrow a million dollars a minute.”

“I’m not advocating for shutting down the government. I’m also not advocating for keeping the damn thing open and borrowing a million dollars a minute,” Paul added subsequently during an interview.  “This is reckless spending that is out of control.”

Republican Leadership never granted Paul a vote on his amendment and shortly before 2 a.m., the budget bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 71-28.

Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi gave a marathon-8-hour speech on the House floor on Wednesday pleading with fellow Democrats to oppose the deal because it didn’t include a solution on DACA.  In the end though, enough Democrats broke ranks and voted for the bill to pass.  The House vote took place at about 5:30 a.m. this morning, and passed by a vote of 240-186.  Seventy-three House Democrats voted for the bill.

The bill now goes to President Trump’s desk where is the President is expected to sign it quickly in order to minimize any major disruptions to the operation of the federal government.


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Senator Mike Lee: Budget Deal Betrayal of Limited Government Conservatism, I Will Be Voting No

Senator Mike Lee announced his opposition to a budget deal put forth by Senate Leadership this week.  In a statement to ITN, the Senator said through a spokeswoman: “This budget deal is a betrayal of everything limited government conservatism stands for and I will be voting no.”

The deal put forth by Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer would increase spending levels by roughly $300 billion over two years.  It would also lift the debt ceiling until after the midterm elections and increase disaster relief funds by $90 billion.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has put a hold on the budget vote for now.  Under Senate rules, all 100 senators must agree to hold a vote and any one senator can put a hold the bill.  In exchange for his vote Paul is asking for a vote on an amendment that would re-impose strict budget caps.

Senate Leadership expressed optimism that a deal would get worked out but acknowledged the uncertainty.  “I think it will all work out. But it’s up in the air,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.

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Pelosi Holds the Floor for a Record 8 Hours, Announces Opposition to Budget Deal Over DACA

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held the floor yesterday for a record 8 hours and 7 minutes, in what was the longest floor speech in House of Representatives history.  Pelosi was announcing her opposition to a Senate deal on the budget that was reached earlier in the day.

Pelosi’s opposition centers on that the budget deal reached between Senate Leaders Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Chuck Schumer, includes no solution for DACA recipients.  Pelosi spent much of the time on the floor reading stories of individuals known as DREAMers – people who came to the country illegally, at a very young age.

In ironing out a compromise to the government shutdown last month, Mitch McConnell promised to bring votes in the Senate on immigration, defense and other Democratic demands.  McConnell’s promise was on the condition that those things were not already included in any budget deal, and that the Democrats do not shut the government down again over them.

Pelosi says that without the same assurances from House Speaker Paul Ryan, McConnell’s promises are meaningless though.  “Without that commitment from Speaker Ryan, comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support, nor does it have the support of a large number of members of our caucus,” Pelosi said.

Despite opposition from progressive, as well as conservative, factions in Congress, party leadership, on both sides, expressed optimism that a deal would get done and that a bill would be on the President’s desk by Thursday night, in time to avoid a shutdown.


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Senate Leaders McConnell and Schumer on Verge of Budget Deal That Would Avert Government Shutdown

Senate Leaders Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Chuck Schumer have reached a deal on the budget that will keep the government funded for two years and avert a government shutdown.  The deal is expected to be announced as early as today.

The agreement would increase domestic spending by $63 billion and military spending by $80 billion for the next two years.  It would also extend disaster relief, fund community health centers and opioid treatment, all Democratic demands.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi complicated matters though by indicating that the bill, as constituted, does not have her support.  The deal would not include a solution on the immigration program known as DACA, something Pelosi said is a requirement for her support.

“The budget caps agreement includes many Democratic priorities,” a statement from Pelosi read. “This morning, we took a measure of our Caucus because the package does nothing to advance bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers in the House. Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support.”

Pelosi is not the only House leader that expressed dissatisfaction with the deal however.  Republican Congressman Mark Meadows, Chairman of the influential House Freedom Caucus also indicated his dismay at the deal.

“There’s negotiations going on even at this hour right now on the spending, and I’m afraid that the deal that they’re going to announce, Chuck Schumer will be very happy about that, the Freedom Caucus members won’t,” Meadows said during an interview this morning.


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Schumer and McConnell Hatch Deal That Would Keep Government Open, Funded Through 2019

Senate Leaders, Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Mitch McConnell announced that they are close to a deal on the budget that would keep the government funded for two years, Schumer said from the floor of the Senate today.  The deal would keep the government funded for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and would avoid the prospect of another government shutdown.

The plan was laid out in this way: The senate will vote on a one year defense appropriations bill either today or tomorrow.  That vote is expected to fail but it is intended to demonstrate that a six-week military spending bill expected to pass the House doesn’t have enough support to pass the Senate.

If Senate Democrats block that bill, McConnell would then amend the House bill to include whatever deal he and Schumer strike within the next twenty-four hours.  If he and Schumer fail to strike a deal, McConnell could then amend the House bill with a failsafe option that would keep the government open.

The government shutdown for three days last month after an agreement on immigration and defense, among other issues, could not be reached.  The government was reopened with a bill that funded the government through February 8, on the condition that McConnell would bring votes on those issues to the floor if a compromise wasn’t worked out by that date.

McConnell said earlier today that he had a positive meeting with Schumer.  “I’m optimistic that very soon we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” he said.


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