White House Rolls Out ‘America First Budget’

Blueprint puts down payment on border wall, boosts defense spending and outlines domestic cuts

The White House on Thursday will release an “America First” budget blueprint that makes a $1.5 billion down payment on a border will, boosts spending on defense and homeland security, and offsets those increases with cuts to domestic programs.

The White House will release its blueprint for discretionary spending for the rest of this fiscal year and fiscal year 2018 at 7 a.m. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters Wednesday that it very much reflects the themes President Donald Trump campaigned on.

“This is the America First budget. It fact, we wrote it using the president’s own words. We went through his speeches … And we turned those policies into numbers.”

“This is the America First budget,” he said. “In fact, we wrote it using the president’s own words.  We went through his speeches. We went through articles that have been written about his policies. We talked to him. And we wanted to know what his policies were. And we turned those policies into numbers.”

He added, “If he said it on the campaign, it’s in the budget.”

One of the most important of those priorities is defense, and the budget would increase spending on the military by $54 billion. Border security, law enforcement generally, and programs promoting school choice also would see funding increases.

In order to keep the budget deficit at roughly the $488 billion estimated by the Congressional Budget Office, Trump’s plan calls for steep cuts to most domestic agencies. That includes the State Department. Some conservatives have criticized that, arguing that so-called “soft power” is an important tool for achieving foreign policy goals.

Mulvaney argued that the cuts will be directed at spending like foreign aid and that the “core functions” of the State Department will be maintained.

“It is not a soft power budget,” he said. “This is a hard power budget. And that was done intentionally. The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration.”

Justin Bogie, a senior fiscal affairs policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, told LifeZette that it is noteworthy that the emerging budget puts to paper priorities Trump outlined as a candidate and does so without adding to the deficit.

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“This is very much what we were expecting,” he said. “Obviously, pumping up defense spending is what Trump was talking about going back to the campaign … This is certainly a step in the right direction.”

Bogie said it is notable that the budget proposal calls for dollar-for-dollar offsets up front to pay for spending increases. That is not typically how it works in Washington, he said.

“We promise to offset them, but usually, the savings are years down the road,” he said.

Mulvaney said cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency would be “significant.” But he argued that the “core functions” of the EPA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies would be preserved, despite cuts.

Mulvaney said a supplemental budget for the current fiscal year would include an additional $30 billion for defense and border security. The $1.5 billion for the wall would be followed by more spending in fiscal year 2018, he said. He added that the first spending would go to “pilot” programs exploring different kinds of barriers. Decisions such as the length of the wall and the types of materials have yet to be made, he said.

But Mulvaney declined to discuss how many federal workers would lose their jobs under the budget. He said Cabinet secretaries would have a great deal of flexibility to determine how best to implement the spending cuts. He said the administration would focus on eliminating programs that are duplicative or ineffective.

Asked about the impact of the budget cuts on home values in the Washington area, Mulvaney quipped: “We did not write this budget with an eye toward the value of your condo.”

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The budget blueprint that will be released Thursday deals only with the roughly $1 trillion that makes up discretionary spending. That leaves another $3 trillion or so that is on autopilot — big-ticket entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Mulvaney said the administration would have more to say about that and tax reform in May.

As a candidate, Trump promised not to touch those programs. Bogie noted that Mulvaney was a budget hawk as a member of Congress. He added that he believes entitlement reform is not off the table and that significantly cutting the $20 trillion national debt is not possible without it.

“At some point, we need to make some tough decisions and decide what out priorities are going to be,” he said.

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PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected].