March 16, 2017

The Skinny Budget

The White House released today the president’s so-called “skinny budget”, which is supposed to provide Congress with a high level sense of the direction the president’s full budget request will seek to take the federal government.  The skinny budget just sent to Capitol Hill requests an increase in defense discretionary spending by $54 billion and decreases non-defense discretionary spending by $54 billion.Previous newly elected presidents have used the skinny budget to provide a fair amount of detail of their proposed policies in the areas of tax, policy initiatives in mandatory spending programs such as Medicare, and discretionary spending levels or the spending subject to the annual appropriations process.

President Trump is continuing his practice of not being bound by what his predecessors did or any past practices of the White House.  The document only provides the total overall budget request for each federal department, and a few bullet points summarizing funding priorities in each department and the programs the president is seeking to eliminate or significantly reduce.  The summary tables only reflect the overall Departments’ budgets relative to fiscal year (FY) 2017 projected levels of funding.

In the summary of major agency budget highlights, the document telegraphs administration plans to eliminate funding for several independent agencies including the Corporation for National and Community Service; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  In a briefing on March 15, OMB Director Mulvaney indicated that there would be funds requested for some of the agencies solely for the purpose of winding down their operations.

The skinny budget also reflects the president’s request for $25 billion of additional defense spending for FY 2017 partially offset by a proposed reduction of $15 billion in non-defense discretionary spending.

The document also provides a summary table for how the president’s budget would alter the discretionary spending caps for FY 2018.  While the president is requesting a level of spending that is consistent with the overall discretionary spending cap reflected in the Budget Control Act, he is proposing a significant departure from the split between defense and non-defense spending in the current discretionary spending cap.

The challenge facing the president’s proposal is a Senate rule which prohibits the consideration of a bill, resolution or conference report that exceeds the discretionary spending caps.  The president is requesting a significant increase above the current defense spending cap.  Therefore, 60-vote thresholds would be required to waive the Senate rule to consider a budget resolution reflecting the president’s request and the appropriations bill to implement the request.


Rich Meade

Rich Meade, a Vice Chairman at Prime Policy Group and Chair of the firm’s Healthcare Practice has over 25 years of experience in legislative, regulatory, political and public relations strategy. He previously served as Chief of Staff to the House Budget Committee. Rich has helped his clients navigate many complex regulatory and legislative landscapes to achieve many public policy successes including transitioning to a new Medicare payment and quality system, and developing, with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), a health information exchange (HIE) on the Nationwide Health Information Network (NwHIN).