Trump’s FY2021 budget makes great political fodder


By Steve Kopperud, Brownfield 

February 12, 2020


Presidential “budgets,” despite the media noise, are merely spending recommendations, generally little more than Washington, DC, reception chatter and hallway gossip.  Even when the president’s party controls both chambers of Congress, the “cardinals” – “Hill speak” for those who snag appropriations committee seats – will never cede the power of the purse to the White House no matter the occupant.  To do so surrenders too much political power, i.e., the ultimate bargaining chips in ongoing and future policy battles.  We all know, money talks.


However, 2020 is an election year, and President Trump’s just-released FY2021 $4.8-trillion spending plan is more than just a collection of OMB spread sheets.  It’s the first public unveiling of the issues, priorities and it’s the overall political battle plan the president will use in the runup to November 3.


The Trump budget would, if taken seriously, hit the federal government with a whopping 5% reduction in overall non-defense discretionary spending.  This is to show the voting public how much he cares about deficit reduction and spending restraint, despite the ongoing demand for $2-4 billion to continue southern border wall construction.


This president’s budgets are notoriously schizophrenic.  He routinely reminds rallies in Dubuque or Columbus or other fly-over state cities of his love for farmers and ranchers, yet he’s recommending an overall 8% cut in USDA’s annual budget appropriations.  Many of the administration’s ag spending reductions aren’t new having been included in Trump’s three previous unheeded federal spending packages.


Spending reductions the White House would like to see include a $43-billion haircut for farm programs over 10 years; slashing crop insurance premium subsidies by about a third, and reworking the qualifying eligibility cap for farm programs to $500,000 in annual adjusted gross income, compared to the current $900,000.  “Farm subsidies should be targeted to the farmers who have fewer options to manage risk through the private sector,” the White House says.


Other proposed reductions include changes to commodity purchase programs, changes to popular conservation programs, elimination of in-kind foreign food assistances, and new user fees for USDA food inspections.  Folks receiving federal food stamps would take a major hit under the Trump plan, with eligibility more difficult, work required and cash in hand replaced in part by monthly “Harvest Boxes” of surplus, non-perishable foods.


But the frugal hand that taketh away can apparently giveth if the political gain is sufficient.


Likely because Hill Democrats have publicly announced their own plans, a big chunk of the president’s spending recommendations would go to “infrastructure” payouts.  You’ll remember this was to be a bipartisan issue early on in the new Congress, that is until a nasty White House meeting between Trump and bipartisan congressional leadership resigned it to a shelf somewhere...