A New Center Perspective on the Trump 2020 Budget

On March 11th, President Trump released his 2020 budget proposal. This first step in the budget process lays out the basic framework for government spending, which can then be adjusted or amended by Congress. However, as we explain below, President Trump’s budget proposal – like that of most recent presidents – is essentially a political document. It’s more of a wish list and framework for his 2020 campaign than it is a blueprint for how and where Washington will spend taxpayer dollars in the year ahead. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear that the budget proposal was dead on arrival by saying, “The cruel and shortsighted cuts in President Trump’s budget request are a roadmap to a sicker, weaker America. House Democrats will reject this toxic, destructive budget request which would hollow out our national strength and fail to meet the needs of the American people.”  

Changes in funding that are unpopular among Democrats include: 

  • Cutting $845 billion over the next decade from Medicare and $241 billion from Medicaid 
  • Steep cuts in agency spending including reductions of $8.8 billion from the Education Department, $12.4 billion from the Department of Health and Human Services, $8.6 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and $12.5 billion from the State Department and USAID.

Here, the New Center outlines President Trump’s budget request and explains why it’s going nowhere—fast. 


President Trump’s 2020 budget broadly aims to “end wasteful spending” and “expand economic growth and opportunity.” The $4.75 trillion budget, the largest in federal history, simultaneously makes sharp cuts to domestic programs and relies on previous tax cuts to spur growth.  

The president’s budget request emphasizes ten pillars of reform that are consistent with his administration’s priorities since taking office: 

Preserving Peace Through Strength 

  • Increase the Defense budget by more than $33 billion to a total of $718.3 billion 
  • Increase the size of the Armed Forces 
  • Give a 3.1% pay-raise to service members 
  • Modernize the American nuclear arsenal, create a U.S. Space Force, invest in new weapons technologies

Building the Wall 

  • Provide an additional $8.6 billion for construction of a wall on the southern border with Mexico 
  • Increase the number of ICE officers and border patrol agents 
  • Increase the number of immigration jails and detention beds 

Rebuilding Infrastructure 

  • Provide $100 billion worth of incentive grants to encourage infrastructure investment 
  • $50 billion for investment in rural infrastructure with a focus on broadband internet service 
  • Streamline permits by eliminating redundant agency reviews 

Supporting American Working Families 

  • Use $750 million for paid parental leave program 
  • Use $1 billion to create a fund to help underserved populations and encourage investment in child care 

Protecting Our Veterans 

  • Increase the Department of Veterans Affairs budget by $6.8 billion to a total of $97 billion 
  • Increase spending on medical care for veterans and make private doctors easier for veterans to access 
  • Add mental health services for suicide prevention 
  • Expand medical services to female veterans 

Combatting Opioid Addiction 

  • Provide $5 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services over five years to increase access to overdose reversal drugs, treatment, and recovery support services for opioid addicts 
  • Expand coverage under Medicaid of medication-assisted treatment options 
  • Provide $2.2 billion to the DEA to enhance efforts targeting illicit drug trafficking  

Fighting High Medical Drug Prices 

  • Create a Medicaid demonstration authority to negotiate drug prices directly with manufacturers 
  • Reduce costs for seniors with reform of Medicare’s Part D drug benefit 
  • Incentivize more competition among generic drug manufacturers with FDA changes, and update study analyzing drug prices paid in other developed countries 

Moving from Welfare to Work 

  • Create mandatory work requirements for welfare assistance 
  • Cut $220 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and use food box delivery instead of cash benefits 
  • Give states ability to propose Welfare to Work projects to receive funding 

More Pathways to Affordable Education and Well-Paying Jobs 

  • Promote formal apprenticeships with an evidence-based system to “earn while they learn” 
  • Investments in STEM education in K-12 schools 
  • Support career and technical education in high schools and postsecondary institutions 

Promoting School Choice 

  • Give parents the choice of public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school options for their children


How is the federal government actually meant to create a budget?

  1. The president submits a budget request to Congress 
  2. The House and Senate pass budget resolutions that are supposed to set overall spending levels for different parts of the government 
  3. House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees “markup” the appropriations bills that actually authorize the spending for various government agencies 
  4. The House and Senate vote on appropriations bills and reconcile differences 
  5. The president signs each appropriations bill and the budget becomes law 

This is how it is supposed to work. But it almost never does. 

1996 was the last time that Congress managed to complete all of its spending bills before the government’s new fiscal year started on October 1st. The budget process has become a vehicle for partisan gamesmanship where members of Congress can host their political disagreements. 

Although the president’s budget request is meant to inform the House and Senate budget resolutions, it does not have to. Presidential and congressional budget proposals have often conflicted in recent years. House Democrats may not even bother to issue a budget resolution in 2019. 

If the budget process is not completed before the end of the fiscal year – and it almost certainly won’t be – Congress may pass a continuing resolution so that agencies continue to receive funding until the full budget is in place.  A continuing resolution provides temporary funding for federal agencies until the new budgeting bills become law. These resolutions are short-term fixes that keep the government open, but allow Congress to punt on the larger budget debate until another day. Committees often draft continuing resolutions by slightly increasing a program or agency’s funding from the previous year.  

If Congress does not pass a budget or continuing resolution in time, a government shutdown ensues.

Zane Heflin is a policy analyst for The New Center, which aims to establish the intellectual basis for a viable political center in today’s America.