Passing a Responsible National Budget

This month’s government shutdown ended quickly as Congress agreed on a two year budget. The bill was truly bipartisan: passing with both parties’ support, and losing some Congresspeople on the left and on the right. I first want to commend the legislators for this budget process, for making the kinds of compromise we don’t often see, and winning victories for CHIP, opioid treatment, and disaster relief. But though compromise is essential to functioning government, we shouldn’t forget the issues that were neglected during this fight, especially immigration, and that this new deal increases the deficit substantially.

Though budget procedure can seem technical and boring, it’s essential to understanding how a lot of policy is made. I’d like to take a couple of minutes to walk through what’s happening now and highlight a few of my priorities.

So grab a cup of coffee and settle in for this week’s Sunday Issue!

What’s Happening Now

On February 8th, Congress passed a budget deal that ended the government shutdown and would fund the government through the next two years. This budget deal is not the final, detailed budget, but rather a stopgap measure that will fund the government through March 23rd, and an agreement broadly of what’ll be in the completed budget. After all of the individual subcommittees complete their appropriations bills, the formal budget will come out next month. It will then be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Trump.

The deal Congress reached is essentially a huge spending increase--one that raises spending caps for both military spending (traditionally a Republican priority) and domestic spending (a Democratic one). So far, the budget raises total spending caps by $300 billion, raising funding for domestic programs by $128 billion and defense spending by $160 billion. The deal puts money towards CHIP, disaster relief, the Veterans Administration, infrastructure, Community Health Centers, opioid and mental health treatment, and many other issues.

Then on Monday, February 12th, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its own budget proposal. The president’s budget request is mostly a formality--Congress writes and passes the final bill, and last year they mostly ignored the White House’s requests. It looks like they’re on track to do so this year as well, since the White House called for huge cuts, but the Congressional deal raised spending caps significantly. Still, the budget request is an important way to understand the administration's priorities going forward. President Trump’s budget closely resembles the one he put forth last year, but there are some important parts to focus on:

President Trump’s bill features massive cuts (42.3%) to all non-defense discretionary spending, including a 33.7% cut to the EPA, 26.9% to the State Department, 22.5% to Medicaid through an “Obamacare replacement bill”, and a 27.4% cut to SNAP. It also makes the tax cut permanent (rather than expiring in 10 years), and increases spending for defense, border security, infrastructure, and veterans.

Trump’s budget also doesn’t balance the deficit. His budget expects the economy will grow by 3% next year, up from its current 1.9%, because of the impact of the tax cuts; however, most economists think this number is a stretch. Because the economy already has close to full employment, it’s unlikely growth will accelerate this much. Without the growth the White House is planning for, the deficit gap will not close. It’s normal to have a deficit during a recession, when the government increases spending on safety nets and tax revenues slow down. But the administration is aiming to have a deficit of this size when the economy is not in recession, and while slashing domestic programs--and that’s just irresponsible.

My Priorities

As the federal government continues to navigate its way through this complicated process and specify a budget for the next two years, it’s important to ensure that some of our most pressing priorities are met.

First, it’s crucial that we avoid another government shutdown. The American people deserve a Congress that’s willing to compromise in order to ensure that basic services are met.

Second, we must remember that responsible defense spending is critical to a smart budget. National security must always remain a top priority, but exorbitant increases in military spending while simultaneously slashing funds for diplomacy and development initiatives through USAID and the State Department is both reckless and shortsighted. A true commitment to U.S. national security means working to build stronger relationships with our allies and working to improve the quality of life of people who inhabit all corners of the globe. American lives are safest when we fulfill global leadership potential and engage with the international community, preventing problems before they arise.

Third, we must reform our immigration system, beginning with a solution for DACA recipients, who will lose protection beginning March 5th. Though the Senate has stopped talking about it for the time being, the immigration debate is far from over. Most immediately, we must find a fix for these innocent young people.

And lastly, it’s critical that Congress reaffirms its commitment to the Farm Bill, which is due for reauthorization this year. The Farm Bill is responsible for a variety of different programs ranging from rural economic development, natural resource management, and nutrition assistance initiatives like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Ensuring adequate funding for the Farm Bill’s reauthorization this year will be critical to the physical and economic well-being of many Ohioans and millions of other Americans across the country.

In Congress, I promise to continue the fight for smarter spending, championing programs and priorities that actually help everyday Americans, rather than blindly cutting essential programs. With your help this November, we can ensure that Ohioans have a responsible voice in next year’s budget process.

Janet GarrettComment