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Money troubles

Donald Trump’s proposed “historic increase” in defense spending will have a lot of hurdles to clear

Trump’s budget would up defense spending by $54 billion, but it’s nowhere near reality yet

The White House said Monday that its proposed fiscal-year 2018 budget will increase defense spending by a massive $54 billion, and to pay for it, money for other federal programs will be slashed.

The White House said it will release its final 2018 budget blueprint, which it’s calling a “security budget,” in May. But the budget proposal is precisely that; it’s Congress, not the president, that ultimately decides how to appropriate tax dollars. House Speaker Paul Ryan said earlier this month that he expects to act on a 2018 budget proposal in July at the earliest.

“As always, the power of the purse lies with Congress, and any budget decisions will go through the regular budget and appropriations process,” said Jennifer Hing, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee.

Trump’s proposal will be the opening gambit in a months-long process consisting of hearings, backroom negotiations, and political grandstanding. The politics of the budget process are so fraught that Congress has managed to pass only one in the past eight years; in 2016, Republicans had greater majorities in both the House and Senate than they do now, yet they still found themselves unable to settle on a budget.

And Congress is still facing an April 28 deadline to finish the budget for fiscal-year 2017 in order to avoid a federal government shutdown.

So in normal years, Trump’s budget would still have an endless number of hurdles to clear. But just the outlines of his “security budget” will likely face greater headwinds than usual.

While there may be deference shown by Republicans to their new president, Trump’s proposed surge in defense spending is likely to be extraordinarily difficult to pass due to spending caps still in place thanks to the 2011 Budget Control Act, also known as the sequester. While appropriations usually require a simple majority in the Senate, amending the Budget Control Act will require 60 votes. Republicans currently have 52, and Democrats are almost certainly not going to vote for a budget that slashes money for federal agencies like the EPA.

“It’s going to be harder than it looks,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said of increasing defense spending at a defense conference last December. “Without increasing non-defense spending, I don’t think we get to 60 [votes].”

If any Republicans relent and increase spending on both defense and non-defense programs, budget hawks will likely squawk at increasing the deficit. Since Trump has pledged not to touch entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, it’s unclear where he would find the money to pay for massive spending increases on defense.

Republicans relentlessly criticized the surge in the national debt under Obama during his eight years in office, but Trump may nevertheless pressure congressional Republicans to pass a budget that significantly adds to that debt. He told Fox News’ Sean Hannity last month that “our military is more important to me than a balanced budget.”

It’s also not clear whether Republicans are united on increasing the defense budget, even one far smaller than $54 billion. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, for example, has in the past crafted budgets significantly cutting the Department of Defense.

When Paul was running for president during the previous two elections, however, he changed his tune, calling for increases in defense spending. A spokesperson for Paul said the senator is waiting for further details on Trump’s budget before making any decisions.

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