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A Seminal Day in Trump’s Still-Young Presidency

Budget blueprint set to be released on same day as key health care vote

President Donald Trump faces one of the most consequential days of his presidency so far on Thursday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)
President Donald Trump faces one of the most consequential days of his presidency so far on Thursday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

An amped-up Mick Mulvaney on Wednesday stood at a White House podium, speaking quickly and unsure of what day it was. The new Office of Management and Budget chief’s demeanor, in many ways, was a fitting symbol of a frenetic presidency that faces major tests Thursday.

Outside the Beltway, President Donald Trump rallied his base Wednesday in Tennessee’s “Music City” and called for a “new Industrial Revolution” in Michigan’s “Motor City.” Those vibes give way Thursday a possible turning point in his 55-day-old presidency.

The administration releases Trump’s first federal budget blueprint, a still-incomplete plan that seeks funding for his border wall, $54 billion more for defense, and deep cuts in discretionary spending. At the same time, the House Budget Committee will decide whether to send to the floor the Republican-crafted package to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.

That would be enough to take up even the most experienced chief executive’s day. But, for this still-green president, there’s more.

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Trump scheduled his revised executive order banning entry into the United States by individuals from six Muslim-majority countries to go into effect Thursday. But the order, opposed by lawmakers in both parties, was put on hold nationwide by a federal judge Wednesday. And his economic team is dealing with the fallout after the Federal Reserve on Wednesday announced its second interest-rate hike in three months, which some economists fret could slow the economy.

So it is no wonder Mulvaney, a point man on the budget and health care, ended a briefing on the budget plan after just 25 minutes because he needed a drink of water. Neither is it a wonder, given Thursday’s agenda, that he acknowledged looking forward to a pint of Guinness on Friday, St. Patrick’s Day.

In short, Thursday is the U.S. presidency in one chaotic 24-hour snapshot.

“These are significant events in the sense they are leading indicators of bigger events to come,” said William Galston, a Clinton White House official now with the Brookings Institution. “If you look at this like a probe, it will be interesting to see, for example, whether members of the [conservative] House Freedom Caucus who are on the Budget Committee break ranks on the health care bill.”

When that panel takes up the health measure, the stakes will be high for both Trump and congressional GOP leaders.

The president and GOP candidates down the ballot campaigned hard on getting rid of the Obama administration-era health care law and replacing it with their own system. Trump is open to changing a bill largely crafted by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and his lieutenants. The speaker said Wednesday that feedback from members could be incorporated to “improve this bill.”

Earlier Wednesday, a senior GOP senator  joined Trump in opening the door to changes.

“It has to be changed as far as I’m concerned,” said Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, though he did not specify what that would entail.

Notably, the administration’s 2018 budget request does not assume the health care overhaul will be signed into law, Mulvaney said.

Trump addresses a rally in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Wednesday. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Trump addresses a rally in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Wednesday. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Health care is not the only issue on which the new president is experiencing turbulence. Republicans and budget experts have already called his budget plan dead on arrival.

Mulvaney said it was built to ensure Trump can “accomplish his priorities.” But, when it comes to spending, that largely is up to Congress. The OMB chief did not explain the strategy to get both chambers to pass all or parts of the 2018 blueprint.

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The administration would likely have to depend on coalitions of Republicans and Democrats to pass individual spending bills based strictly on its blueprint, which Mulvaney said reflects Trump promises to spend more at home and less abroad. Senior GOP appropriators have expressed concern at cuts the administration is proposing, and say they will craft their own bills.

In an example of the challenge Trump faces, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain called the defense request “a joke” on Wednesday. He and other hawks want even more military spending.

Galston of the Brookings Institution said that even inexperienced Washington hands could see that the budget is already in “deep trouble.”

“But that this administration is getting its act together internally, enough to actually move closer to getting a full budget out is, I guess, something,” he said.

Niels Lesniewski and Kerry Young contributed to this report.

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