Amid rumors of a disconnect between the president and GOP members of Congress, an agreement has been reached on a federal spending plan of more than $1 trillion, although that will cover only the next five months. The bill retains and in some cases increases funding for many of the domestic programs threatened by Trump’s campaign and his still-nascent administration. Thus, it does not represent an immediate disaster for nonprofits and communities. Are we seeing a corrective trend in progress or is this just a temporary reprieve?
Trump’s stated spending priority was the military, but the budget reflects only half of what he had requested at $15 billion. The $18 billion in domestic spending reductions the administration sought were not forthcoming. Some notable programs remained virtually untouched: no cuts to Planned Parenthood, the National Institutes of Health (which got a $2 billion increase instead of the $1.2 billion cut that was requested by the administration), the Legal Services Corporation, the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additionally, the proposed border wall was not funded, and the EPA retains 99 percent of its budget despite threats of a 40 percent cut.
The Washington Post reports that the bill requires that the Office of Management and Budget detail “the expected costs of Executive Orders and Presidential Memorandums.” It also reported that:
Trump won only a small boost in funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the main agency in charge of deportations and immigration monitoring. Republicans had hoped to fund a hiring spree for new ICE agents and the addition of tens of thousands of detention beds. Instead, the spending bill includes money for 100 new officers and approximately 5,000 more beds.
The Bureau of Land Management is being required to immediately reassess its plan for 6 million acres of land in eastern Alaska. Interestingly, the bill creates the Bureau of Land Management Foundation, a Congressionally-sanctioned nonprofit like those already in place to support the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Campaign finance reporting takes a minor hit in the budget bill, rolling back some Obama-era changes in federal government contracting practices. The federal government is now prohibited from requiring federal contractors to disclose campaign contributions. The Securities and Exchange Commission will be required to stop demanding information on political contributions, gifts to tax-exempt groups, or dues paid to trade associations.
The Department of Justice saw $143 million cut, but the Violence Against Women budget within that actually saw an increase. Also in connection with the DOJ, language in the bill prohibits the agency from interfering in states with medical marijuana laws in place. Longstanding federal laws criminalizing marijuana possession and sale are still in force, and Attorney General Sessions has a long history of opposing legalization.
And, perhaps of even greater importance, the bill requires that Trump obey the War Powers Act, thus requiring a congressional vote before U.S. troops are sent into combat. Politico reports that:
The Trump administration also must submit a report within 90 days outlining its strategy for dealing with the Assad regime. That requirement is especially relevant in the aftermath of Trump’s airstrikes in Syria last month. Trump won bipartisan praise from Congress, even as lawmakers demanded that Congress be engaged prior to any future military action against Assad.
Lawmakers are also eager to hear from the administration on how it plans to combat the Islamic State, and will withhold $2.5 billion of defense spending until it does so.
Of course, this by no means should indicate to us that these battles are over. Many of them may simply be delayed, with many additional battles to be fought. Some Republicans and other budget hawks are saying that the 2017 spending bill is a holdover from the Obama administration, and it shouldn’t be surprising that its spending levels are generally the same as Obama’s previous budgets. Meanwhile, some right-wing talk radio hosts are enraged, decrying Trump as neither Republican nor conservative. They see the budget deal as further evidence of Congressional Republicans denying their own rhetoric and caving to special interests.
Trump’s “America First” budget blueprint, with its proposed shift of $54 billion in FY2018 spending from non-defense programs to the Pentagon, is expected to be fleshed out into a full budget later this spring. Vigilance is the watchword.