The White House has released what it calls a “Budget Blueprint” for fiscal year 2018. It would be wrong to construe this document as a budget.
Under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 the president is required to submit a comprehensive budget proposal to the Congress by the first Monday in February. Newly elected presidents are usually given some leeway in presenting their first budgets since they have only a short time in office before the February deadline. Barack Obama sent a preliminary budget for fiscal 2010 to Congress in late February 2009 and followed up with a complete budget in May. Trump is only a little bit later with his blueprint compared to Obama.
The Act is very specific about what the president’s budget proposal must contain including: A budget message and summary and supporting information and about 30 additional items, such as expenditures and receipts for the past year through the fourth year following the budget year, information on debt, financial information and information on employment levels.
Neither Obama’s nor Trump’s initial budget documents fully satisfies the Budget Act requirements but Trump’s is further from complete. With less than half the page count of Obama’s, Trump’s blueprint is a bare-bones statement of spending priorities for the discretionary side of the budget, indicating a desire for broad shifts resource priorities. Security spending is increased by $54 billion over fiscal 2017 spending levels and is paid for by double digit percentage decreases for EPA and ten cabinet departments.
But discretionary spending addresses only about one-third of total federal spending. The blueprint contains no economic assumption, nothing about tax revenues, and no projections for mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare. These are promised in a fuller budget document expected in May. If Congress were to try to act on this blueprint, it would be doing so with huge information gaps.