White House Maps Budget Battle With a Gambit Once Scorned by GOP

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration on Monday unveiled its opening position in high-stakes budget negotiations set to begin in Congress just weeks after a stalemate over spending led to a 35-day government shutdown.

White House acting budget director Russ Vought said in an opinion essay posted on RealClearPolitics that the Trump fiscal 2020 budget set to be released March 11 won’t call for raising spending caps put in place in the 2011 debt ceiling deal. Instead, increases in defense spending would come by using an uncapped war fund account, an approach conservatives have long called a gimmick.

White House Maps Budget Battle With a Gambit Once Scorned by GOP

"Congress has enacted three consecutive deals to raise these spending caps,” Vought wrote. “The last one increased spending levels for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 by nearly $300 billion, pouring money into wasteful programs that we know don’t work. In each of these deals, Democrats in Congress held defense spending increases hostage for increases in domestic spending. We should expect more of the same from Democrats this year."

Fiscal conservatives may feel uncomfortable using the war funding account for regular non-war military needs, he wrote. But he said doing so "remains the administration’s only fiscally responsible option in meeting national security needs while avoiding yet another increase to the spending caps."

Without a deal in Congress, the $1.244 trillion cap on appropriated discretionary spending in fiscal 2019 will fall to $1.118 trillion, a cut of $126 billion. Defense spending would fall by $71 billion and non-defense social spending would fall by $55 billion.

Vought said that the budget will call for a 5 percent reduction in non-defense spending.

The top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee said Congress has already rejected two budgets from President Donald Trump that included deep cuts to social spending.

“President Trump has already submitted two extreme budget requests filled with destructive cuts that Congress completely rejected,” said Nita Lowey of New York. “Acting Director Vought’s op-ed confirms that the third Trump budget will be more of the same."

Congress must resolve the dispute over the spending caps before it can finish the 12 annual spending bills needed to keep the government open past Sept. 30.

Lawmakers widely expect any deal on the caps to also include an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling.

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