By Glenn Thrush and Kate Kelly
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will instruct federal agencies Monday to assemble a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes sharp increases in Defense Department spending and drastic enough cuts to domestic agencies that he can keep his promise to leave Social Security and Medicare alone, according to four senior administration officials.
The budget outline will be the first move in a campaign this week to reset the narrative of Trump’s turmoil-tossed White House.
A day before delivering a high-stakes address Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, Trump will demand a budget with tens of billions of dollars in reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department, according to four senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the plan. Social safety net programs like food stamps would also be hit hard.
Preliminary budget outlines are usually little-noticed administrative exercises, the first step in negotiations between the White House and federal agencies that usually shave the sharpest edges off the initial request.
But this plan — a product of a collaboration between the Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney; the National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn; and the White House chief strategist, Stephen Bannon — is intended to make a big splash for a president eager to show that he is a man of action.
Trump’s top advisers huddled in the White House this weekend to work on his Tuesday night prime-time address. They focused on a single, often overlooked message amid the chaos of his first weeks in the White House: the assertion that the reality-show candidate is now a president determined to keep audacious campaign promises on immigration, the economy and the budget, no matter how sloppy or disruptive it looks from the outside.
“They might not agree with everything you do, but people will respect you for doing what you said you were going to do,” said Jason Miller, a top communications strategist on the Trump campaign who remains close to the White House.
“He’s doing something first, and there’s time for talk later,” Miller added. “This is ultimately how he’s going to get people who didn’t vote, or people who didn’t vote for him, into the fold.
“Inside the Beltway and with the media, there’s this focus on the palace intrigue. Out in the rest of the country, they are seeing a guy who is focused on jobs and the economy.”
The budget plan, a numerical sketch that will probably be substantially altered by House and Senate Republicans — and vociferously opposed by congressional Democrats — will be Trump’s first big step into a legislative fray that he has largely avoided during the first 40 days of his administration.
Thus far, instead of legislating, he has focused on a succession of executive orders on immigration and deregulation written by Bannon’s small West Wing team.
Resistance from federal agencies could ease some of the eepest cuts in the initial plan before a final budget request is even sent to Congress. And Capitol Hill will have the last word.
To meet Trump’s defense request, lawmakers in both parties would have to agree to raise or end statutory spending caps on defense and domestic programs that were imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Trump is in a highly unusual position at a time when most presidents are finding their footing or confronting crisis. Despite his lament that he was handed “a mess” by President Barack Obama, he inherited a low unemployment rate, a lack of international crises requiring immediate attention, and majorities in both houses of Congress.
By contrast, when Obama took office the country was losing 700,000 jobs a month, and the global financial system was teetering on the edge of collapse. By the time he stepped up to the rostrum for his first joint congressional address on Feb. 24, 2009, he had accrued an impressive string of accomplishments, including the passage of a massive stimulus bill through the Democratic-controlled Congress, a gender pay-parity act, a children’s health insurance law and executive actions that would ultimately help stabilize the financial and automotive sectors.
In that address, with the prospect of a second Great Depression still high, Obama sought to rally the country, vowing, “We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who was Obama’s first chief of staff, said in an interview Sunday night that Trump was trying to create a “sense of urgency, which most people aren’t feeling right now, which was a reality to us” in order to generate support for his unspecified economic agenda, which includes an infrastructure bill and a push for a tax overhaul.
“When it comes to all of these executive orders, the question is, does the public view what he’s doing as action or motion?” Emanuel added. “If you don’t have real action you create a sense of motion, so the public views it as progress.”
In putting together their budget plans, White House officials are operating under the assumption that the rate of the United States’ economic growth this year will be 2.4 percent, according to one person who has been briefed on the matter.
That is slightly ahead of current projections, but it is well below the 3 percent to 4 percent growth that Trump promised during the campaign.
For next year, the operating assumption is only slightly higher, that person added, an indication that the budget process will not be too out of step with economic reality.
The turmoil that has engulfed Trump’s West Wing is largely of his own devising — part of a calculated effort by Bannon to move boldly despite his team’s lack of experience, and despite the reluctance of many mainstream Republicans to work for a president whom many of them opposed in the party’s brutal 2016 primaries.
“During his first month in office, President Trump has done exactly what he said he was going to do,” said Thomas Barrack Jr., a longtime friend of Trump’s who ran his inaugural committee.
“No president has worked harder or accomplished as much, even with tremendous political resistance forcing him to operate with a small team of outsiders possessing little government experience.”