President-Elect Donald Trump Signaling Federal Budget Isn’t A Priority

Economic conservatives must be  feeling at least a little dispirited about what so far appears to be President-elect Donald Trump’s total lack of interest in everything and anything having to do with the federal budget.

It’s only been a little over a month since Election Day and Trump is entitled to the full transition period and then some to demonstrate his actual intentions when it comes to federal spending, taxes, the deficit and national debt. So before the trolls come out to play in the comments section, I’m raising my right hand to acknowledge that the Trump administration hasn’t yet begun.

Nevertheless, the omens about Trump’s lack of interest in the federal budget are already rather ominous. Consider the following.

First, 5 weeks into the transition, Trump hasn’t yet named his choice to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Yes, OMB isn’t the only major cabinet position that hasn’t yet been announced. But given all of the budget-related work that Trump will be have to face early next year — a 2017 budget resolution in January or February, a debt ceiling suspension that expires in March, the possibility of a government shutdown when the continuing resolution runs out at the end of April and the possible submission of a 2018 budget, not to mention budget-related issues such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act – you would think that the selection of the OMB director would be one of the president-elect’s most pressing needs. Instead, it’s taken a backseat to to other agencies such as the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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To be fair, several names have been mentioned for OMB. But Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) supposedly turned it down several weeks ago; Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, who had been mentioned as a candidate for OMB on Friday was named director of the National Economic Counsel; and Senate Budget Committee Staff Director Eric Ueland, who was talked about prominently shortly after the election, no longer seems to be mentioned much.

Second, the announced Trump policies will substantially increase the annual federal deficit and national debt. As I posted several weeks ago, “the annual federal deficit from the Trump taxing and spending plans could be $1 trillion or more for at least each of the next four years” and the total increase in the national debt during this period will likely be about the same as was recorded during Obama’s first term in office.”

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Here again, I will gladly concede that Trump hasn’t yet actually proposed anything. But the fiscal concoction of tax cuts and spending increases he promised during the campaign and has unwaveringly continued to support since Election Day, plus the continuing doubts about the U.S. economy’s ability to grow anywhere close to the Trump-promised level needed to offset the deficit and debt increases, has to make almost anyone wonder whether “the budget” even registers on the president-elect’s radar.

Third, also as I posted several weeks ago, there are strong indications coming from GOP leadership staff that the Trump administration is considering not submitting any budget at all next year. That would make Trump the first president since the Congressional Budget Act was enacted in 1974 not to release a budget in his first year in office. It would also at least partly explain why there’s no rush to name an OMB director.

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Finally, Trump’s deal with Carrier seems to have set off alarm bells with economic conservatives about Trump’s concern about the budget. For example, in the wake of the Carrier deal, conservative icon George Will said last week in the National Review that Trump “forthrightly and comprehensively repudiates the traditional conservative agenda.” That agenda almost certainly includes more than lip service to traditional Republican budget orthodoxy.

The fact that Will wrote this piece at this point in the transition shows that the lack of interest in the budget Trump has shown so far has become a common concern. It also shows that the federal budget is not high on the president-elect’s agenda.