There will always be hiccups at the beginning of a new administration.
Granted, the first month of this presidency has been a little more dramatic than most. But all that drama doesn’t change the fact that the president and Congress still need to do the most basic tasks of governing. Case in point: the budget.
It almost seems inevitable that at the beginning of any new administration the budget request is submitted well after the first Monday in February, the mandated deadline. President Clinton’s first budget was 66 days late. President Bush, who was normally a stickler for punctuality, sent his budget in 63 days late. And President Obama submitted his inaugural budget 94 days late. Considering the first Monday in February has come and gone and the nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget was just now confirmed, it is pretty likely that President Trump’s first budget request will be seriously late as well.
The new president is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress Feb. 28, which will give him an opportunity to outline his agenda. But there are rumors that he will abandon another opportunity to lay the groundwork for his budget – the so-called skinny budget. I’m sure you remember “A Vision of Change for America” (Clinton), “A Blueprint for New Beginnings: A Responsible Budget for America’s Priorities” (Bush) and “A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promise” (Obama). They were all roughly 200 pages or less and contained budget ideas that would be fleshed out in greater detail later in the thousands of pages of budgetary material.
The lack of detail in President Trump’s policy proposals to date make these budget documents – including the skinny budget – all the more important. Policymakers don’t know how various initiatives are going to be paid for – or even if they will be paid for. I have said it before in this column: Budgets are about a lot more than numbers, they’re about priorities. Money is policy. What he funds is a reflection of what President Trump’s priorities are. Also putting pen to paper and coming to terms with costs and deficits helps clarify the budgetary mind. It eliminates much of the squishiness of campaign promises with hard dollars and cents estimates. It doesn’t mean that all the numbers will be spot on or will even come to fruition (it is a request after all), but it gives the public something to dig into.
As I wrote when he was nominated, we were encouraged when Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) was nominated to be the Office of Management and Budget Director. He made fiscal responsibility a centerpiece of his three terms in Congress. We want to see what will come of his handiwork, starting with a skinny budget.