Congress is turning its attention to the federal budget, which it must pass before September 30 in order to avoid a government shutdown.
On May 23, the Trump Budget, called “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” was released. The budget covers fiscal year 2018, which begins October 1, 2017. And, while the President has proposed the budget, it is up to the Congress to approve it. Congress has about four months, until September 30, 2017, when the current fiscal year ends and the bipartisan budget compromise Congress approved earlier this month, expires. The President’s budget message states, “This Budget’s defining ambition is to unleash the dreams of the American people. This requires laying a new foundation for American Greatness.”
The budget includes $639B for defense, a $52B increase, offset by targeted reductions elsewhere. This includes a $1.5 trillion in non-defense discretionary reductions and $1.4 trillion in Medicaid cuts over the next ten years. The budget is described as a “bold and specific set of policy and budgetary initiatives that tackle many of the problems ignored or exacerbated by previous administrations.” The premise of the budget is a description of “what went wrong” in past administrations and “how to make things right – new policies for jobs and growth and new spending priorities.” In other words, the budget is true to the promises on which the President campaigned. Not surprising, both Republican and Democratic Congressional budget leaders have pushed back already on the budget.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2018 budget reflects a 31.4% reduction from 2017, amounting to a decrease of $2.6B. This budgetary reduction is accompanied by a 24.3% reduction in fulltime EPA employees, reducing the EPA workforce by 3,800. But these numbers alone do not explain how the Trump administration plans to change EPA’s mission. The budget is likely to result in several areas of change.
First, these reductions in budget and number of employees means that there will be less EPA activity overall, fewer enforcement cases, fewer regulations implementing the environmental laws, and less engagement between EPA and the states. This leaves much of the responsibility for the environment falling to the states. However, the budget also proposes cuts in discretionary federal grants to state and local environmental agencies and unless the states can come up with their own dollars to supplement the missing federal monies, state environmental activity is likely to be reduced, as well.
Second, EPA research and development funding in the area of science and technology is projected to be reduced by 47%. Without new science or fact-based support for scientific principles, there will be no new regulations.
While there has been much discussion of eliminating or substantially reducing EPA’s climate change programs, there is no particular statement in the budget that provides how the administration will accomplish this.
House Republican leaders, facing a serious time crunch this fall, are already plotting ways to avoid a government shutdown at the end of September — a real possibility given partisan divisions over spending priorities.
Speaker Paul Ryan in a closed-door GOP conference meeting on May 25 laid out the legislative calendar, showing lawmakers they’re approximately four months behind schedule in the appropriations process for 2018, in part because President Donald Trump's budget landed later than usual.
The early discussion about salvaging the annual spending process underscores how much Trump, Ryan and other party leaders are struggling to govern now that they run Washington.
House Republicans can't agree on their own budget blueprint for next year, clashing internally over cuts to entitlement programs and safety net initiatives such as food stamps and housing aid, all while trying to create space for tax reform and a big defense spending increase. In addition, they still have to find money for Trump's priorities, including the hugely controversial border wall between the United States and Mexico.
Congress needs to pass a funding bill by September 30 to keep the lights on at federal agencies. Yet with lawmakers out for the August recess, they only have 43 legislative days left to pass appropriations bills before they hit that deadline. Obamacare repeal efforts are likely to suck up much of that time in the Senate. Tax reform – or even a tax-cut package – would also take up more time and energy.
Aware of the looming deadline, Ryan raised the possibility of clumping appropriations bills together in an omnibus to save time. Passing a continuing resolution, that essentially maintains current spending levels and priorities in order to keep the government open, was also discussed.
Additionally, Trump’s top economic aides – White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin – are urging Capitol Hill leaders to raise the debt ceiling by the end of July. And Congress is totally unprepared to do so. Lawmakers in both parties thought they’d have until the Fall to act, and they had planned to roll the difficult vote into a broader spending package that could be more easily swallowed. That strategy may now have to be tossed aside with the debt limit deadline approaching faster than expected.
The White House request raises the prospect of a bruising fight over the debt limit – not just between Republicans and Democrats but within both parties. The GOP is torn over whether to combine spending cuts with the debt ceiling lift, and Senate Democrats are already signaling they may push for their own concessions because their votes are going to be needed to avoid a devastating government default.
The BRAVE Act (H.R. 1212) Update
The BRAVE Act, picked up a few more sponsors from both sides of the aisle in recent weeks: Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN), James Langevin (D-RI) and Rob Bishop (R-UT). See the full list of co-sponsors, and learn more about the bill, here.