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Trump’s budget wish list unlikely to happen in a divided Congress

President Donald Trump called for deep cuts in federal spending, billions more for his proposed border wall and a significant boost for the military in a budget unlikely to gain traction, even among his top Republican allies in Congress.| Getty Images

President Donald Trump called for deep cuts in federal spending, billions more for his proposed border wall and a significant boost for the military in a budget unlikely to gain traction, even among his top Republican allies in Congress.

Trump delivered his first budget under a divided government Monday, a road map that does not balance despite a 5 percent reduction in spending. The proposal calls for $8.6 billion for a border wall, a request that met with immediate resistance from Democrats.

But even before Democrats claimed control of the House in last year’s midterm election, similar proposals from Trump failed in Congress. The schism between the president’s wish list and the actual spending of taxpayer money only deepened after a dispute over the border wall led to a 35-day government shutdown that ended in January.

Presidential budgets, required by the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 and largely ignored for decades, are widely viewed as having more to do with politics than fiscal policy. With the 2020 election already underway, the document gives the president a chance to lay out a vision for the country that he can trumpet to his supporters.

“President Trump and this administration have prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending,” said Trump’s top budget aide, Russell Vought.

Trump budget winners, losers

Trump is eager to sell at least three messages with his budget: that he hasn’t given up on building his long-promised border wall, that he wants to continue to increase military spending and that he hopes to slash just about everything else.

The president is expected to request $8.6 billion more for his wall, just weeks after Congress failed to approve his earlier demand for $5.7 billion. With both sides dug in on the issue, the latest demand is certain to go nowhere. Trump declared a national emergency in February, a move the White House says will free up billions for the wall.

“The whole issue of the wall, border security is of paramount importance,” White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News Sunday.

Is requesting more money for the wall just setting up another partisan fight?

“I suppose there will be,” Kudlow said.

Democrats balked before the thick budget volumes landed on desks in Capitol Hill.

“Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement. “The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again.”

Trump is also expected to call for billions more in spending at the Defense Department – one of the few priorities likely to gain interest from lawmakers. After initially considering Pentagon cuts last year, the White House has more recently weighed the idea of increasing the Defense Department’s budget 5 percent to $750 billion.

Trump’s budget also includes $2.7 trillion in spending cuts, paid for in part through a 5 percent trim at non-defense federal agencies. Each one of those reductions represents a cut to a program that someone in Washington holds dear, and will fight for.

Why it won’t happen

Trump has proposed many of those same changes before, without much success. Last year’s budget, which came at a time when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate, included $18 billion for the border wall. His 2017 budget proposed eliminating 62 federal agencies entirely. Congress largely ignored those requests, and many others.

In the end, none of those agencies were eliminated and lawmakers approved only $1.37 billion for border fencing.

The president’s budget must include detailed information about how much the government collected in taxes and other revenue, the public debt and proposed spending priorities. But the real work of spending taxpayer money, is handled by the congressional appropriations process. And that means Democrats and Republicans must work together to decide which programs should be prioritized.

In an era of deep partisan divisions, the appropriations process is one of the few remaining areas of policy making where the two parties are forced to work together.