A battle over spending is shaping up between President Trump and congressional Republicans. Many of Trump’s campaign promises involved spending large amounts of tax money on items from the military to infrastructure. Now budget hawks in Congress are gearing up to try to prevent the deficit from exploding over the next four years.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the tensions surfaced in the confirmation hearing of Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina congressman who has been nominated by Mr. Trump to head the White House Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney faced sharp questions from two different camps in the GOP. On one side were defense hawks who were concerned about Rep. Mulvaney’s past votes to cut military spending. On the other were those at odds with Mr. Trump’s campaign promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare.
While the Trump Administration has indicated that it plans some cuts in government spending, the elephant in the room is that programs like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Center for Public Broadcasting aren’t what’s busting the federal budget. Even foreign aid only represents about one percent of federal spending.
Let’s face it, America. We have an entitlement problem.
Entitlements make up about half of the federal budget. The largest entitlement of all is a program that many don’t even think of as an entitlement. Social Security accounts for 24 percent of the federal budget and is the largest single budget item. Health spending in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Obamacare subsidies account for another 25 percent. Defense spending is a distant third at 16 percent. Entitlement spending is expected to rise even further as Baby Boomers age and leave the workforce.
“I’m not looking to pick a fight with the president of the United States, but if his goal is to put the country on a fiscally sound course, he’s going to have to address entitlement reform,” Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.) told the Journal. “Anybody who is going to balance the budget on discretionary spending [cuts] is on a fool’s errand.”
A fight that is likely to come before entitlement reform is Mr. Trump’s plan for an infrastructure stimulus. Rep. Mulvaney and many Republicans were critical of the infrastructure spending plan before the election, but a separate Journal article noted that Democrats were embracing the $1 trillion proposal.
“We’re challenging him to join us even if his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate aren’t for it,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. This raises the possibility that President Trump could form a bipartisan alliance with congressional Democrats to enact his spending proposals as well as block conservative attempts at entitlement reform.
The Republican budget hawks will have allies in the Trump Administration. Mr. Mulvaney, a proponent of entitlement reform during his four terms in Congress, said, “I haven’t been quiet and shy since I’ve been here. The president knew what he was getting when he asked me to fill this role.”
Likewise, the fiscally conservative Heritage Foundation was influential in the Trump transition team. Since the group holds President Trump’s ear, reports like the one that advise him to “not be taken in by hyperbolic rhetoric about the state of the nation’s infrastructure or lured by false promises of stimulus-induced job creation” may prove influential in the long term.
The Trump campaign has led to a Trump Administration that is filled with contradictions. Trump’s promises of spending, some made as recently as last week, conflict with his appointment of fiscal conservatives like Mulvaney. Other appointees, such as Steven Mnuchin, seem to be more squishy on deficit spending.
Will Trump follow his advisors or his instincts? Will Republicans back him if Trump follows his liberal inclinations on spending? Stay tuned and find out.