Budget signals end to restraint in spending

Elevator doors closed as Senator Susan Collins of Maine finished talking with reporters about the budget votes.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Elevator doors closed as Senator Susan Collins of Maine finished talking with reporters about the budget votes.

WASHINGTON — The massive infusion of cash approved by Congress early Friday morning is slated to lift the budgets of federal agencies and the Pentagon far beyond what they were at the start of the Trump presidency, ending the era of spending restraint that gripped Washington for most of this decade.

The deal signed into law by President Trump will pump more than $500 billion in additional money into domestic agencies and the Pentagon over two years, the biggest increase in spending in almost a decade. It ends months of budget squabbles and provides greater certainty for the government officials responsible for the military, disaster relief, and domestic agencies.

At the same time, congressional aides and lobbyists say the deal will prompt a burst of activity as lawmakers, agencies, and lobbyists attempt to influence where the money will go.


In Washington’s latest display of governance by brinkmanship, the bipartisan accord bolstering military and domestic programs and deepening federal deficits crossed the finish line just before dawn — but not before a brief government shutdown overnight.

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While Congress approved a 10 percent increase in spending for the Pentagon and domestic agencies — lifting the military budget to $700 billion this year and the domestic budget to $591 billion — appropriators on 12 different committees have to fill in many of the details. New partisan clashes are expected over sensitive issues such as where the Pentagon will spend its money and whether the Department of Homeland Security might try to apportion funding to a border wall.

‘‘Beltway bandits, lobbyists, and military contractors everywhere are probably popping the champagne corks,’’ said Jim Manley, who served as an aide to former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

The White House will make its positions more clearly known Monday when it releases its 2019 budget.

The bipartisan deal ushers in an era of spending unlike anything Washington has seen since Republicans forced former president Barack Obama in 2011 to accept rigid budget caps that limited federal outlays for a decade.


Republicans’ decision Friday, supported by Democrats, to effectively bust those caps suggests that the attitude toward government spending in Washington has fundamentally changed and that agencies will have a greater ability to address their priorities.

‘‘What we have been doing is lurching from one big crisis to another, and that’s very unsettling for agency heads and recipients of federal money and anyone trying to plan around the government,’’ said Alice Rivlin, the director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration. ‘‘It’s good not to have that lurching, at least for a little while.’’

But others argue that the respite from budget crises will prove temporary, given lawmakers’ decision to ignore the impact of the legislation on the deficit.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget projects that the United States will have a $1 trillion budget deficit by next year — extremely high by historical standards — and that it will probably last for years.

‘‘It’s fiscally dangerous, but politicians are willing to trade their favorite priorities for someone else’s and put it all on a credit card,’’ said Maya MacGuineas, the president of the group.


Civilian and military leaders are likely to welcome the move, however, after years when they had to repeatedly readjust budgets and lacked any certainty over future funding.

‘‘No enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of the US military than the combination of’’ budget caps and temporary funding resolutions, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this week.

The Pentagon won’t release the details of the new defense budget until Monday, but Mattis has already given a clear sense of his spending priorities.

The budget is likely to include a large amount of money to ensure that the military is ready for conflict. That means the Pentagon will probably make billions available to boost pilots’ flying hours, which have been cut back in recent years. The Navy is likely to get more money for ship maintenance, increasing the number of vessels available for operations, and the Army is likely to spend a lot more on costly training center rotations for its brigades.