WASHINGTON — President Trump is preparing a budget that would fulfill some of his top campaign promises by boosting military spending while cutting domestic programs.

But his reluctance to embrace cuts to entitlement programs could lead to sharp tensions with Republicans in Congress who have long argued that Medicare and Social Security must be overhauled to ensure the government’s fiscal health.

Monday’s announcement by the White House was the first indication of the new administration’s spending priorities, with the president set to arrive Tuesday night on Capitol Hill to address a joint session of Congress.

In his speech, Trump is expected to outline an optimistic vision for the country, touting his intent to replace the Affordable Care Act, implement policies to help working parents and to address national security concerns, including rebuilding the U.S. military. He has said his budget will be a “very big part of (Tuesday) night’s speech.”

The first details of the president’s spending plan include a $54 billion increase in defense spending and equal cuts to domestic programs, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and foreign aid.

“We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump told reporters Monday morning. “We can do so much more with the money we spend.”

White House officials skirted questions about whether the budget would include proposals to slow the growth of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – the largest drivers of federal spending. But Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, have for years argued that spending increases must be accompanied by significant changes to entitlements.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted Monday that Trump intends to keep his campaign promise to preserve the programs, but avoided commenting on whether there is any wiggle room, such as protecting current beneficiaries while implementing future changes.

“Let me get back to you on the specifics,” Spicer told reporters.

Republicans have long advocated significantly changing the programs to address the nation’s debt, which is now nearly $20 trillion.

Independent budget analysts said policy proposals released so far by the administration would do little to fix the growing red ink.

“This is a president who loves to talk about easy choices and pretty much runs away from any hard choices when it comes to the budget,” said Maya MacGuineas, head of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “This president has pointed out that our national debt is an important metric of this country’s health, but he has not put forward a plan for how to deal with it.”

Ryan and other Republican leaders have avoided weighing in on the specifics of the Trump budget, saying they are waiting to see the details that will be released in the coming weeks while speaking positively of the president’s overall agenda.

But Ryan has long advocated changing entitlement programs, arguing that their finances are in a perilous state.

“Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt,” he said in October 2012, during a vice presidential debate when he was Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate. “These are indisputable facts.”

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in many ways embodies the fiscal quandary that Republicans face under Trump. As a conservative member of Congress from South Carolina, he fashioned himself as a deficit hawk who opposed big increases in defense funding and advocated cutting spending for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other entitlement programs. Now he is overseeing Trump’s effort to greatly increase defense spending while offering no plan to address entitlements.

On Monday, he avoided answering specific questions about the upcoming budget, noting that the first part will be finalized by mid-March, with more details set to arrive in May.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mulvaney emphasized that the military and domestic spending priorities outlined Monday are intended to send a clear signal that Trump is seeking to fulfill his campaign promises.

“We are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars,” Mulvaney said. “A full budget will contain the entire spectrum of what the president has proposed.”

Other tea party Republicans of Mulvaney’s ilk may be harder-pressed to support a plan calling for defense spending increases not accompanied with more wide-ranging fiscal reforms.

On the other side of the spectrum is Trump, who has long resisted changing entitlements, but also has accumulated a long list of spending priorities.

Speaking at a gathering of governors Monday, Trump said the budget proposal would include “historic” increases in spending to bolster the country’s “depleted military,” and he said it also would support law enforcement to reduce crime.

He spoke at length about boosting funding for infrastructure projects, which he said during his campaign should receive as much as $1 trillion in new financing.

“We spent $6 trillion in the Middle East, and we have potholes all over our highways and our roads,” Trump said. “Infrastructure, we’re going to start spending on infrastructure – big.”

Democrats are gearing up to oppose Trump’s agenda. Senate Democrats in particular will be under considerable pressure from the party’s base to block the president’s spending cuts if congressional Republicans support them.

Although the administration has yet to detail the reductions being contemplated, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said they probably will affect key domestic programs. “A cut this steep almost certainly means cuts to agencies that protect consumers from Wall Street excess, and protect clean air and water,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the reductions could have a major impact on programs that keep the U.S. workforce competitive. “The president is surrendering America’s leadership in innovation, education, science and clean energy,” she said in a written statement.

Republican defense hawks, meanwhile, are calling Trump’s request for defense spending inadequate.

“With a world on fire, America cannot secure peace through strength with just 3 percent more than President Obama’s budget,” Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, Ariz., said in a written statement. “We can and must do better.”

Some Republican veterans of past budget battles also questioned whether the proposed cuts are realistic.

Rep. Mike Simpson, Idaho, who chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee, said flatly that spending bills cutting upward of $50 billion in nondefense spending could not pass the Republican House.

“There’s more to the government than defense,” he said, noting that increases are needed to implement Republican priorities in the departments of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: