White House Proposes $4.7 Trillion Budget for Fiscal 2020

Trump’s outline would sharply cut spending on safety-net programs

The Trump administration proposed a $4.7 trillion budget that would sharply reduce spending on safety-net programs, while effectively exempting the Pentagon from strict spending caps set to take effect in fiscal year 2020.

The president’s plan would widen the federal budget deficit to $1.1 trillion in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and would propose to eliminate the deficit by 2034, in part by assuming the economy grows much faster than many independent forecasters expect.

Why Can’t Trump Build Anything?

Infrastructure won’t happen until the Democrats regain control.

Donald Trump isn’t the first president, or even the first Republican president, who has sought to define his legacy in part with a big construction project. Abraham Lincoln signed legislation providing the land grants and financing that created the transcontinental railroad. Theodore Roosevelt built the Panama Canal. Dwight Eisenhower built the interstate highway system.

But Trump’s wall is different, and not just because it probably won’t actually get built. Previous big construction projects were about bringing people together and making them more productive. The wall is about division — not just a barrier against outsiders, but an attempt to drive a wedge between Americans, too. It’s about fear, not the future.

Why isn’t Trump building anything? Surely he’s exactly the kind of politician likely to suffer from an edifice complex, a desire to see his name on big projects. Furthermore, during the 2016 campaign he didn’t just promise a wall, he also promised a major rebuilding of America’s infrastructure.

But month after month of inaction followed his inauguration. A year ago he again promised “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.” Again, nothing happened.

Last month there was reportedly a White House meeting to game outa new infrastructure plan. This time they mean it. Really. Would this administration ever lie to you?

The interesting question is why Trump seems unwilling or unable to do anything about America’s crumbling roads, bridges, water supplies and so on. After all, polls show that a large majority of the public wants to see more infrastructure spending. Public investment is an issue on which Trump could get substantial Democratic support; it would lift the economy, and also help repair the public’s perception that the administration is chaotic and incompetent.

Yet everything points to two more years of occasional bombast about infrastructure, with no follow-up. Why the paralysis?

Some news analyses suggest that it’s about money, that big infrastructure spending would happen if only Republicans and Democrats could agree on how to pay for it. But this is being credulous. Remember, in 2017 the G.O.P. enacted a $2 trillion tax cutwith absolutely no pay-fors; the tax cut is completely failing to deliver the promised boost to private investment, but there is no sign of buyer’s remorse.

So Republicans don’t really care about using debt to pay for things they want. And Democrats, whose top policy wonks have been telling them that deficit fears are excessive, would surely support a program of debt-financed infrastructure spending.

How the Border Wall, Trump’s Signature Campaign Promise, Turned Into a National Emergency

The president’s declaration comes after divisions and competing priorities in the White House allowed the barrier project to languish

President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S. southern border comes after two years of political neglect of his signature campaign promise, lost amid competing priorities and divisions within his administration, according to current and former White House officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers.

Mr. Trump on Friday said the move would allow him to supplement the $1.38 billion allotted for border barriers in the spending package approved by Congress—far short of the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump wanted. “We’re talking about an invasion of our country,” Mr. Trump said speaking from the Rose Garden in urgent terms familiar during his campaign.

The wall’s reemergence as a top priority within the White House came after the Republican Party’s loss of the House in November’s midterm election, and after goading from conservative media kept Mr. Trump focused on the border wall, current and former White House officials said.

It wasn’t until December, as some government offices entered a 35-day shutdown amid the fight over wall funding, that Mr. Trump assembled a team of advisers devoted to getting it built. They turned out to be a divided group.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, pushed for a broader deal with Democrats to provide protections for some immigrants living in the U.S. without permission, while Vice President Mike Pence sought to limit the scope of the negotiations. Mr. Kushner cautioned the president about issuing a national emergency order; Mick Mulvaney, newly installed as acting chief of staff, pressed for it.

Mr. Trump’s first-term wins had clear leaders: Former economic adviser Gary Cohn delivered on tax cuts. Former White House counsel Don McGahn shepherded two Supreme Court nominations onto the High Court, and Mr. Kushner is credited with pushing a criminal-justice overhaul that reduced prison sentences on some drug convictions.

The wall project had no such director. Last summer, a White House official seeking a senior aide in charge of the border wall was sent to Doug Fears, a deputy to national security adviser John Bolton. Mr. Fears, a rear admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard, is neither a senior administration official nor in charge of border-wall issues, a spokesman said.

By then, frustration was setting in with the president, and in August, he asked Mr. Mulvaney about declaring a national emergency. “You know, that makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Mulvaney told him. The then-budget director started working on plans, which were only finalized last week, according to a senior White House official.

“Easy”

As a candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump described building the wall as a simple job. He tied it to his identity as a builder, a career that dates to the 1960s when he joined his father’s real-estate company. As the author of “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump put his reputation as a negotiator on the line.

As Mr. Trump prepares for re-election—and for voters to scrutinize his record as president—he has adjusted his message. “If you think it’s easy with these people, it’s not easy,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Congress, during a rally last summer in West Virginia.
.. Another early advocate of the wall was Stephen K. Bannon, the Trump campaign’s chief executive who became Mr. Trump’s top strategist and senior counselor. The promise to build a wall “and eventually make Mexico pay for it” was written on a dry erase board in Mr. Bannon’s West Wing office, competing for attention among other campaign promises. It was one of more than four dozen pledges on the white board, organized by policy area.

On another office wall, Mr. Bannon listed the goals for Mr. Trump’s first 100 days in office, listed on 36 pages of computer paper taped together. The legislative agenda included the “End Illegal Immigration Act,” proposed legislation that would have made the wall a priority. It was never introduced.

The project was made tougher without a supportive constituency in Washington to pressure lawmakers. Labor unions don’t view the border wall as a job stimulus, and business didn’t see clear benefits to the bottom line.

“The mistake they made was not coming in right away and coming up with a plan,” said Tom Davis, a Republican former House lawmaker. “You wonder why they didn’t try to jam this through when Republicans controlled the House because it’s a lot more complicated now trying to convince Nancy Pelosi.”

In the first weeks of the Trump administration, Mr. Kushner raised tensions inside the West Wing when he entertained suggestions by Democratic lawmakers to secure wall money in exchange for supporting protections for immigrants protected under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

Mr. Kushner and Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, also left some West Wing aides with the impression that the president should put the wall on hold while renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

.. Messers. Kushner and Cohn later suggested outfitting the wall with solar panels, and possibly selling the energy to Mexico. The president loved the idea so much he adopted it as his own.
.. Advisers suggested that Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall through a renegotiated Nafta. The revised trade deal, which hasn’t been approved by Congress, includes no language about a border wall.

In March, Congress completed a $1.3 trillion spending package, but included just $1.6 billion for a border barrier, with most of the money intended to replace existing fencing. It banned the money from being spent on concrete slabs or any other of the wall prototypes the White House was considering.

Upset there wasn’t more money for the wall, Mr. Trump threatened to veto it. At an emergency meeting at the White House with his staff and Republican leaders, Mr. Trump learned that the spending bill incorporated all of the border wall money that was requested in the White House budget proposal.

“Who the f— put that in my request?” Mr. Trump shouted.

Mr. Trump directed his fury at Marc Short, then his legislative affairs director, while John Kelly, the former chief of staff was silent. Mr. Kelly was the Department of Homeland Security secretary when the agency made the request for border funds the year before.

Mr. Mulvaney, who assembled the White House’s budget proposal, privately encouraged the president to veto it and suggested Mr. Trump blame then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, who should have sought more wall money.

Mr. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Mr. Trump they would push for more wall money in the next round of spending bills at the end of the year. During the fall, Mr. Trump was energized by crowds chanting “built the wall” during his many midterm-election rallies.

Soon after the November election, it became clear to the White House that lawmakers weren’t interested in a fight over border-wall money. Mr. Trump decided to carry out his threat to close what he could of the U.S. government.

During the shutdown last month, Mr. Trump complained to conservative allies that Mr. Ryan should have pushed harder for wall funds. Last weekend, the president complained about it again during a meeting with a Republican member of the committee that negotiated the latest deal.

“Mr. President,” the Republican lawmaker said, “we gave you everything you asked for.”

Not a single brick for his wall: Trump faces defeat

There are at least three signs that the White House understands it won’t get what Trump wants.

.. How Trump will spin this — or if will choose to distract the country with some outrageous stunt — is anyone’s guess.

The lesson for both Democrats and Republicans is clear and goes well beyond this issue: There will be no partisan legislation through the end of Trump’s current term. A week from now, Pelosi most likely will be able to point to a Democratic victory on the single most important issue for Trump and his base. If he isn’t getting the wall, he’s not getting anything else on his wish list that requires legislative approval.

The Senate might still rubber-stamp judicial and executive branch nominations. Trump can continue to bear-hug dictators and fight with allies. He is, however, a lame duck at this point, lacking public support and legislative influence. He will have little to show for his last two years, if he makes it that far.

.. How will members of Trump’s base react to defeat on the wall? Trump might find a way to snow them, allowing them to rationalize the defeat. However, there will be some hard-liners who give it away — acknowledging that Trump folded. Whether this realization will simply depress the GOP base or whether it will spark some mini-revolt remains to be seen. In any event, Pelosi will not tire of winning.