List of Possible White House Cuts Are a Small Portion of the Budget, But Are a Good Place to Start

Normally the President submits his budget proposal for the next Fiscal Year (which starts October 1) by the end of February. This schedule gets backed up when a new Executive moves into the White House so that the incoming administration can put its stamp on fiscal policy. It is expected that President Trump will release his first budget blueprint on March 13 (a more indepth document is expected later this spring). Because of the Senate’s delay in confirming his Office of Management and Budget Director, this would be about two weeks later than the date his predecessors released their respective tax and spending blueprints upon taking office.

Due to a short term spending bill that provided funding through April 28, Trump will also be able to weigh in on spending for the remainder of the current Fiscal Year. Building on his executive orders related to a freeze on regulation and government hiring, this process will provide Trump further opportunity to follow through on his election pledges – while also filling in many of the missing details. On the campaign trail, he talked about getting the debt under control and eliminating wasteful spending, but NTUF’s tally of candidate Trump’s spending agenda found that he specified more increases than cuts for a net cost of $20 billion per year.

On Wednesday, the President promised that his budget will prioritize taxpayers: “We’ll be directing all of our departments and agencies to protect every last American and every last tax dollar. No more wasted money. ... We’re going to be spending the money in a very, very careful manner. Our moral duty to the taxpayer requires us to make our government leaner and more accountable. We must do a lot more with less. And we must stop the improper payments and the abuses, negotiate better prices and look for every last dollar of savings.”

While it is unclear what cuts will be included in the budget blueprint, the New York Times obtained a White House internal memo that listed several possible programs including: the National Endowment for the Arts ($152 million in FY 2016); the National Endowment for the Humanities ($155 million); the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($485 million); the Office of National Drug Control Policy ($21 million for the Office, which also administers the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program ($278 million) and the Drug-Free Communities Program ($95 million)); the Appalachian Regional Commission ($119 million); Overseas Private Investment Corporation (program outlays of $74 million but it also currently generates offsetting receipts in excess of the costs); and, the government’s “paid volunteer” programs through the Corporation for National and Community Service ($771 million).

The Times derided the savings as a mere “pittance.” The Washington Post wrote about a similar proposed cut list and illustrated that they would represent the smallest of slices from a pie chart of the budget. But the relative small size of a program is not a reason not to cut it. The discussion should be about whether the program fulfills a valid role of government. Is this something the government should be doing? Are taxpayers subsidizing a service that provides narrowly-targeted benefits? Is the free market being crowded out? These questions are especially important given the $587 billion deficit and the massive level of federal debt. Every penny should be under review.

Where the newspapers do have a point is that lawmakers will be unable to balance the budget by only cutting programs like the ones listed above. Discretionary spending comprises less than one-third of total outlays and the fastest growing areas of the budget are for interest payments on the national debt and entitlement programs. Moreover, Trump has also called to increase federal spending on infrastructure, homeland defense, and in today’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he vowed to conduct the “one of the greatest military buildups in American history.”

President Trump has bluntly stated that he inherited a mess and he has also voiced support for balancing the budget over the long-term. That task will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without reforming entitlement programs. Taxpayers will hope that he lays the groundwork to achieve a balanced budget so that future generations will not be left with a worse mess.