National Press Club

Budget experts slam Trump's 'Skinny Budget'

March 19, 2017 | By Lorna Aldrich | lorna2@verizon.net

Stan Collender, executive vice president of Qorvis MSLGROUP (left) speaks with Jim Dyer, principal at the Podesta Group before a National Press Club Newsmaker on the federal budget, March 17, 2017.

Stan Collender, executive vice president of Qorvis MSLGROUP (left) speaks with Jim Dyer, principal at the Podesta Group before a National Press Club Newsmaker on the federal budget, March 17, 2017.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

The Trump administration's budget document with its cuts in domestic non-defense programs to offset an increase in defense expenditures is not a real budget because it lacks economic projections and contains $18 billion of unspecified cuts, a panel of veteran budget analysts said Friday at a National Press Club Newsmaker press conference.

"There's more that's not here than is here," said Stan Collender, executive vice president of Qorvis MSLGROUP, noting that the "skinny budget," as the document is described, addresses just a third of federal spending. It is "more ideology than economics," he said.

There is no indication of metrics or analytics in the document, he said.

Jim Dyer, a principal of Podesta Group, hoped the administration would supply the missing elements in May, when a complete budget is expected. He found the most amazing part of the current document is $18 billion of unspecified cuts from the non-defense discretionary budget. He interpreted it as the administration saying, "We're out of ideas, folks."

Dyer called it "remarkable" for the budget to imply that, while the Congress cannot earmark spending, it can earmark cuts.

He noted that there is a constituency for increasing the defense budget, but not at the expense of many of the proposed cuts in domestic non-defense programs.

Both Collender and Dyer offered personal testimonies to the importance of some of the programs slated for cuts or elimination. Collender noted that experimental medical research had addressed a rare cancer he had and from which he is now free. That research, by a unit slated for elimination, led to the current knowledge on immunotherapy, which will be widely applicable to other cancers, he said.

Dyer recalled growing up in Appalachia where nutrition and other programs for low-income people were essential, citing the importance of the Appalachian Regional Commission's putting people to work and the meaning of a full belly of food to a poor child.

Robert Greenstein president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the cuts, if realized, would bring the discretionary non-defense part of the budget, to the lowest level on record, with data back to 1962.

He feared that the full budget released in May would be the "most aggressive Robin Hood-in-reverse budget seen from any modern president."

Greenstein also illustrated the effect of continual cuts on the operation of the IRS by referring to a study that said the agency did not have the enforcement capacity to continue a program which produced a four-to-one collection to expenditure result in order to concentrate on enforcement programs producing six- or eight-fold benefits.

He warned that eventually the collective effect of cuts in the IRS budget would increase the deficit from the revenue side of the budget.

G. William Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Group, who spoke last, agreed with his fellow panelists and concluded, "These proposals are going nowhere." He called them "the start of March Madness."

During questions and answers, Greenstein reenforced Hoagland's forecast that agreement on the budget will not be reached by saying, "We're looking for continuing resolutions as far as the eye can see."

Collender cautioned the audience not to be surprised if precedents, laws and rules that governed the budget process in the past were disregarded as the processes unfolds this year.