WASHINGTON — President Trump will instruct federal agencies on Monday to assemble a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes sharp increases in Defense Department spending and drastic enough cuts to domestic agencies that he can keep his promise to leave Social Security and Medicare alone, according to four senior administration officials.
The budget outline will be the first move in an effort this week to reset the narrative of Trump’s turmoil-tossed White House.
A day before delivering a high-stakes address on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, Trump will demand a budget with tens of billions of dollars in reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department, according to four senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the plan. Social safety net programs like food stamps would also be hit hard.
Preliminary budget outlines are usually little-noticed administrative exercises, the first step in negotiations between the White House and federal agencies that usually shave the sharpest edges off the initial request.
But this plan — a product of a collaboration between the Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney; the National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn; and the White House chief strategist, Stephen Bannon — is intended to make a big splash for a president eager to show that he is a man of action.
Trump’s top advisers huddled in the White House this weekend to work on his Tuesday night prime-time address. They focused on a single, often overlooked message amid the chaos of his first weeks in the White House: the assertion that the reality-show candidate is now a president determined to keep audacious campaign promises on immigration, the economy and the budget, no matter how sloppy or disruptive it looks from the outside.
“They might not agree with everything you do, but people will respect you for doing what you said you were going to do,” said Jason Miller, a top communications strategist on the Trump campaign who remains close to the White House.
“He’s doing something first, and there’s time for talk later,” Miller added. “This is ultimately how he’s going to get people who didn’t vote, or people who didn’t vote for him, into the fold.
“Inside the Beltway and with the media, there’s this focus on the palace intrigue. Out in the rest of the country, they are seeing a guy who is focused on jobs and the economy.”
The budget plan, a numerical sketch that will probably be substantially altered by House and Senate Republicans — and vociferously opposed by congressional Democrats — will be Trump’s first big step into a legislative fray that he has largely avoided during the first 40 days of his administration.
Thus far, instead of legislating, he has focused on a succession of executive orders on immigration and deregulation.
Resistance from federal agencies could ease some of the deepest cuts in the initial plan before a final budget request is even sent to Congress. And Capitol Hill will have the last word.
To meet Trump’s defense request, lawmakers in both parties would have to agree to raise or end statutory spending caps on defense and domestic programs that were imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Trump is in a highly unusual position at a time when most presidents are finding their footing or confronting crisis. Despite his lament that he was handed “a mess” by Barack Obama, he inherited a low unemployment rate, a lack of international crises requiring immediate attention, and majorities in both houses of Congress.
By contrast, when Obama took office, the country was losing 700,000 jobs a month, and the global financial system was teetering on the edge of collapse. By the time he stepped up to the rostrum for his first joint congressional address on Feb. 24, 2009, he had already accrued an impressive string of accomplishments, including the passage of a massive stimulus bill through the Democratic-controlled Congress, a gender pay-parity act, a children’s health insurance law, and executive actions that would ultimately help stabilize the financial and automotive sectors.
In that address, with the prospect of a second Great Depression still high, Obama sought to rally the country, vowing, “We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”
In putting together their budget plans, White House officials are operating under the assumption that the rate of the United States’ economic growth this year will be 2.4 percent, according to one person who has been briefed on the matter.
That is slightly ahead of current projections, but it’s well below the 3 percent to 4 percent growth that Trump promised during the campaign.
For next year, the operating assumption is only slightly higher, that person added, an indication that the budget process will not be too out of step with economic reality.