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In An Election Year, Will Trump's Budget Face Roadblocks?

Feb 10, 2020
Originally published on February 10, 2020 8:01 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, the White House is expected to release the president's budget proposal. Although Congress is very likely to have its own different ideas, this proposal shows the president's priorities. It includes funding for his border wall, for example, proposes spending cuts in other areas, including slashing foreign aid by 21%, which is what an administration official has confirmed to NPR. That was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Maya MacGuineas is with us. She is president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Thanks for coming back to the program.

MAYA MACGUINEAS: Good morning. Nice to be with you.

INSKEEP: How's this proposal look to you from what we've seen?

MACGUINEAS: Well, from what we're seeing, it looks like this proposal is going to be pretty much in line with what we saw last year. And that means that this is a budget that has priorities on tax cuts, more on spending, a lot less on domestic discretionary spending and some reforms to the mandatory portions of the budget. But a lot - you'll hear a lot of pushback on those areas.

INSKEEP: When you say mandatory portions of the budget, you're talking about things like Social Security and Medicare?

MACGUINEAS: I don't know that I've heard there's anything on Social Security. But some of the health care programs - they put some real reforms in last year, and it sounds like they may be in there again this year and some on disability.

INSKEEP: And when we say the word reform, some people are going to hear the word cuts. This is an effort to restrain spending in that area, right?

MACGUINEAS: Yeah. So you'll hear a lot of things about this part of the budget's being slashed, this part of the budget is being cut. Actually, I think that there'll still be growth in those areas. Health care is the area in the budget that's growing the fastest of all areas. And we actually do need to make real reforms to it. So what I would love to see happen but probably won't is if we could pull away the politics from this budget and sort of the false hopes and gimmicks. There's going to be huge assumptions about growth rates and cuts that are never going to materialize. But at the same time, there will be some serious policy ideas in there. And our political environment is such that it's tough to have real discussions about those. But that's the part that would deserve some real sort of scratching beneath the surface.

INSKEEP: I want people to know, if they don't, that your organization has spent years and years and years focusing on the general problem of the budget deficit, of borrowing money every year. And where does it go as it adds up? And the deficit becomes, of course, debt that has to be paid back over time. How comfortable are you with trillion-dollar deficits year after year in a time of economic growth?

MACGUINEAS: I think that's the exact right point and the big picture in all of this, which is never before in the history of this country has the deficit been this large when the economy was this strong. Trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. This budget is going to say that it gets to balance over some amount of time, probably beyond a decade. But the truth is, when you pull out the unrealistic assumptions, that will not be the case, nor are you seeing out of Congress ideas to address these huge budget deficits.

And I'm incredibly worried. And the reason I'm worried is because budget deficits can weaken your economy, leave you unprepared to fight recessions. And they're really kind of the underpinning of the overall economy. So whatever the choices are, there's always going to be big disagreements. Should we have bigger government, smaller government? But if you're borrowing a trillion dollars a year, again - which is a record in terms of the economy - you jeopardize all those other priorities.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, what do you think of a Republican Party that was very worried about deficits when the president was named Obama and has lost all interest in them now?

MACGUINEAS: It's really disappointing. It's really disappointing to see that people care about fiscal policy more for politics than politics. I think that goes around. We see that broadly at all parties at different times. But it's been really troubling to see the pulling back from caring about this, and it starts with the president. And he has not made deficit reduction the serious priority it needs to be.

INSKEEP: Maya MacGuineas, thanks for coming by.

MACGUINEAS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.