The budget battle is joined in a bitterly divided Congress as President Trump seeks a record $4.7 trillion spending plan. It faces tough opposition not only from Democrats but it won’t get a pass from all the Republicans, including Georgia’s senior Sen. Johnny Isakson. On the positive side for Georgia, the vital Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is on track for another year’s funding.
Trump’s plan provides for $750 billion in new defense funds and $8.6 billion to complete his long-promised barrier along the southern border – anathema to Democrats. Offsetting higher spending at least in part, the president wants to slash $1.9 trillion from social programs including Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. His plan would whack Democrat sacred cows, the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, Housing and Urban Development by 16 percent, State Department foreign aid programs by 23 percent and Education by 10 percent. The cuts may be restored by Congress as was the case with previous Trump budget trimming, never popular with many of our legislators.
As the adage goes, the president proposes but Congress disposes. That was the read from Sen. Isakson, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee overseeing more than half the budget. He said the plan “serves as an outline of the president’s priorities.” The senator put the matter in proper perspective. “Ultimately,” he said, it is up to the Senate and the House “to set funding levels for federal programs, and proposals in the president’s budget to cut or increase funding for certain programs will not necessarily be adopted by Congress.” He called the budget “a meaningful guideline as Congress moves forward in setting federal spending priorities with limited federal dollars.”
Those priorities include funding essential programs for veterans, of special concern to Isakson who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. He was gratified by the plan’s strong support for implementing landmark bipartisan legislation passed last year, the VA MISSION Act, to ensure that veterans do not wait months for healthcare, among other important reforms. The $220.2 billion proposed for VA would also fund a new electronics system to integrate health care records between the VA and the Defense Department, a key to improving medical service for veterans.
A Georgia priority is $130 million budgeted for the expansion of Savannah Harbor, the third consecutive year of full federal funding for the project to accommodate larger ships with completion set for 2022. Isakson said the funding “is real cause for celebration,” adding that he has been fighting for the project for 20 years. “With this announcement,” he said, “the finish line is finally in sight.” Likewise, Sen. David Perdue and Rep. Buddy Carter, whose district includes Savannah, credited Trump for recommending full funding for the project, pointing out the benefit-to-cost ratio of about 7 to 1.
Despite such worthy projects as SHEP and Trump’s proposed cuts, the fact remains that the budget proposal calls for record spending and continuing sky-high deficits. The White House’s top budget official, OMB acting director Russ Vought, told a congressional committee the deficit will swell to $1.1 trillion in the next fiscal year although he said he believed the figure would improve over 10 years. Even so, in 2024 he said, “We will still be looking at $1 trillion deficits.” To reduce the red ink, the administration is counting on a strong economy and the corporate tax cuts to provide growing tax revenues. Vought acknowledged deficits have worsened in the first two years of this administration, but he said, “over 10 years we believe that deficits will improve. We believe that the corporate tax cuts are very, very important to our economic growth numbers.” That is the optimistic view but there is no getting around the imperative for serious reductions in spending by the federal government.
For far too long, deficit spending has been a habit in Washington and there’s no end in sight. Instead another battle of the budget is joined and the outlook is for another impasse resulting in another partial government shutdown. Americans who have to balance their own budgets deserve far better than this from their federal government.