March 11, 2019 / 10:04 AM / 10 days ago

With budget, Trump throws opening jab in next funding fight with Congress

WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Monday will ask lawmakers to hike spending for the military and the wall he wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border and slash other programs in his 2020 budget, the opening move in his next funding fight with Congress.

The Republican president’s proposal, slated for release at 11:30 a.m. (1530 GMT), is expected to be rejected by Congress, where Democratic leaders on Sunday warned Trump against what they called a “repeat performance” of last year’s funding war, which led to a five-week partial shutdown of the federal government.

This year, the stakes are higher. The Oct. 1 deadline for a funding deadline to keep the government running coincides with the deadline to lift the debt limit - without which the U.S. government would risk a default, which would shock the world economy.

Trump’s budget will ask for $8.6 billion to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico, officials familiar with the budget told Reuters.

That is more than six times what Congress gave him for border projects in each of the past two fiscal years, and 6 percent more than the president has corralled by invoking emergency powers this year after he failed to get the money he wanted.

Immigration enforcement, veterans’ healthcare and opioid addiction programs will get a boost in the budget. But Trump will propose to cut non-defense spending by an average of 5 percent below caps that Congress had set for fiscal 2019, the White House Office of Management and Budget said on Sunday.

Some programs will be targeted for cancellation altogether to push total non-defense discretionary spending below a cap of $542 billion established in a 2011 fiscal restraint law, an administration official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Tax cuts have been a priority for the Republican White House and Congress in recent years, rather than deficit reduction. The deficit ran to $900 billion in 2019, and the national debt has ballooned to $22 trillion.

Trump’s budget would propose $2.7 trillion in spending cuts over a decade - but even that would not be enough to balance the budget. The OMB said the budget was designed to balance by 2034, exceeding the traditional 10-year budget outlook.

Trump will propose to boost defense spending by an as-yet-unspecified amount in fiscal 2020. But to get around the spending caps, those increases will be funneled through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, more traditionally used for emergencies.

The tactic has already drawn criticism from fiscal hawks. “We’ve long argued that OCO is a gimmick,” said Romina Boccia, who specializes in fiscal and economic policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Boccia said she saw the move as an opening bid to try to break the pattern of making increases in defense spending contingent on hikes in non-defense programs.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Cooney

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