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Trump Budget’s Chilly Reception Will Be Nothing New

Congress routinely rebuffed Obama budgets too

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, center, and GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks, right, reviewed production of the fiscal 208 budget proposal at the Government Publishing Office’s plant on North Capitol Street last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, center, and GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks, right, reviewed production of the fiscal 208 budget proposal at the Government Publishing Office’s plant on North Capitol Street last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump’s budget request finally gets its full release Tuesday morning, but the stories of its inevitable rejection on Capitol Hill could have been written weeks ago.

There has been ample bipartisan skepticism of the proposed cuts to domestic programs coming out of Trump’s budget office for fiscal 2018, but overall, the reaction and follow through on it will not likely be much different than it ever was under President Barack Obama.

“I would take the president’s budget, and have for years, as a list of suggestions. It isn’t anything that we have to go by, and often don’t,” Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi said last week. “And in fact, the record of presidential budgets’ votes has been absolutely terrible.”

Even that might be an understatement from the Wyoming Republican.

Congress has periodically turned otherwise dead-on-arrival presidential budgets into amendments or other analogues for the budget resolution that are voted down with extreme prejudice, and which have extensive bipartisan opposition. 

In March 2015, the Senate knocked down a fiscal 2016 budget blueprint from Obama on a lopsided 98-1 vote. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, a Delaware Democrat, was the lone affirmative vote in the chamber.

It was one more “yes” vote than the fiscal 2013 plan got. That one the Senate rejected, 99-0.

When the House went through a similar exercise that year, the tongue-in-cheek Obama budget was proposed by none other than current Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, at the time a Republican congressman from South Carolina in his first term.

“As we were getting information about which amendments were being offered here today on the floor as amendments to the overall GOP budget, it occurred to me again that the same oversight had taken place. Clearly, it must be oversight. Clearly, my colleagues meant to offer the president’s budget,” Mulvaney said during that debate. “I thought I’d help my colleagues across the aisle out a little bit and offer the president’s budget.”

Mulvaney’s “Obama budget” was rebuffed by the House, 414-0. A theoretical “Trump budget” might not do much better.

Such budget resolutions crafted off presidential budgets are by their nature imprecise and almost always drafted by the opposition party of the president actually making the proposal.

So, if the Senate eventually casts an overwhelming vote against a fiscal 2018 Trump budget, the resolution might actually be crafted by someone on the payroll of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., or one of his lieutenants.

“In yet another broken promise to working people, President Trump’s budget pulls the rug out from so many who need help: those suffering from opioid and heroin addiction, people in nursing homes and their families who may now have to care for them, the elderly, the disabled, and children,” Schumer said responding to media reports about proposed reductions. “This budget is taking the fast lane to rejection by the American people and both parties in Congress.”

Nonetheless lawmakers will have plenty to chew on in the depths of the budget proposal. Of particular note might be how much the Trump administration addresses, or doesn’t, some of the terminations included in the so-called “skinny” budget for fiscal 2018, the March 16 document, which provided the broad strokes of Trump and Mulvaney priorities.

“This Budget makes it clear that the President will reverse the damaging trends from previous administrations and restore the American Dream. This plan will put our Nation’s budget back into balance and begin to reduce the national debt through fiscally conservative principles that respect American taxpayers — all while preserving Social Security and Medicare,” read an executive summary circulated ahead of the Trump plan official release of  Tuesday. It also highlighted that the proposal would balance over the next decade.

Republican lawmakers were critical of a number of reductions in the earlier document. That included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s all-out rejection of the elimination of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a key promoter of economic development in his home state.

“We are not going to allow any cuts to the Appalachian Regional Commission,” McConnell said in Corbin, Kentucky, just after Trump’s skinny budget was released. “It is very important to Eastern Kentucky. It has been for a number of years. That’s not going to happen.”

The same could be said for a variety of the aspirational reductions that could easily resurface from the Trump administration Tuesday, be they attempts to slash the government’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) to rural communities with an abundance of federal lands or the Essential Air Service that funds connections between outlying airports and major hubs.

If some form of a “Trump budget” comes to the floor in either chamber, the gimmicky nature of the exercise, and its lack of consequences, will provide an invitation for droves of lawmakers to simply vote “no.”

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