Trump Orders 5 Percent Spending Cuts Across All Federal Departments

But there are at least three good reasons to be skeptical this will happen.



President Donald Trump made headlines on Wednesday for telling his cabinet secretaries to plan for 5 percent budget cuts next year. That's a great idea, so it's too bad that it probably won't come to pass.

"I'm going to ask each of you to come back with a 5 percent budget cut from each of your departments," Trump said, encouraging the heads of some unspecified departments to "do even more" and propose further cuts. "I think you can do it," the president said. "Get rid of the fat. Get rid of the waste. I'm sure you can do it."

To be sure, with America facing a large and growing federal budget deficit—the Treasury Department reported Monday that the 2018 fiscal year ended with a $779 billion deficit, the largest since 2012—any discussion of paring back federal spending is welcome. It's heartening to see that Trump is apparently interested in addressing the federal government's out-of-control spending, or at least following through with reducing spending to offset the tax cuts passed in 2017.

Still, there are at least three good reasons to be skeptical of Trump's announcement.

First, there is the way the announcement was made. After three days of headlines about the growing deficit—a deficit that was caused in no small part by Republican-led efforts to hike federal spending this year—Trump pitched his spending cut plan in front of the media just moments before heading into a closed-door meeting with the heads of executive departments. The timing, along with the utter lack of specifics, makes the whole thing look more like an effort to generate positive headlines than to substantively address spending.

If so, it was a success. Most major media outlets reported on the president's "proposal" to cut spending—though, of course, no such proposal actually exists. For now, those 5 percent spending cuts are vague and ephemeral. Listen to the full video of his remarks, and you'll hear Trump admit that the 5 percent threshold might not apply to all departments. Still, the White House got a media cycle of headlines that suggest it is aiming for fiscal responsibility, which is a messaging win for Republicans in advance of the midterms.

But let's give Trump the benefit of the doubt, and assume that every executive department and agency offers 5 percent spending cuts for next year that Trump can include in his budget. That would make for an entertaining State Of The Union address, if nothing else.

But the second reason to be skeptical of these unspecified budget cuts is that the president's budget typically matters about as much as a single vote in a national election. Congress makes all the final decisions about budgeting, and there is very little indication that the current Congress is interested in cutting spending. Last year, for example, Trump made specific proposals for cutting food stamps, farm subsidies, and other discretionary programs. Overall, Trump's 2018 budget aimed to reduce federal spending by about 9 percent over 10 years.

How did the Republican-controlled Congress respond to those plans? By hiking federal spending by $400 billion, annihilating the Obama-era budget caps.

And who signed the spending bill that Congress passed? You can probably guess.

The third reason to be skeptical about these proposed cuts is also tied up in what Congress did earlier this year. Before passing a budget for the current year, Republicans and Democrats reached a two-year budget deal by agreeing to spend more money on pretty much everything. But the key part is that it's a two-year spending deal, and while that doesn't preclude the possibility of changes being made next year, it does give both parties in Congress another incentive to do nothing more than politely skim the president's budget proposal before tossing it in the nearest trash can. Those incentives only get stronger if Democrats take the House and Republicans hold the Senate in next month's elections, as is currently predicted by most prognosticators.

To be clear: I hope I'm wrong about all this. It's possible that Wednesday's comments are the start of Trump's evolution into a fiscally conservative president determined to root out executive branch waste and force Congress to stop spending money the country doesn't have.

It's possible, but history suggests it's unlikely. Like the Trump administration's nuclear deal with North Korea and its promise to completely rewrite trade deals with Europe and the rest of North America, don't be surprised when this supposed proposal to cut 5 percent from the federal budget turns out to be underwhelming.

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  1. “…don’t be surprised when this supposed proposal to cut 5 percent from the federal budget turns out to be underwhelming.”

    Hell if Congress would just hold spending constant next year, that would be a win.

    1. Reason has to shit in Trump, no matter what.

      1. Reason employees are probably libertarian, educated, non-evangelical professionals with marketable skills who reside in successful, modern communities. What kind of goober would expect those folks to support Trump?

  2. Hmmm… I taught I taw a spoiler vote…

  3. At least Trump’s talking about cutting spending. The Dems are back to MO’ BETTER TAXES NOW!

    Of course, in a fit of bipartisanship, Congress will increase spending. And the president will sign the bill.

    1. He’s talking about cutting spending, while actually ramping up military spending.

      1. Doesn’t he know that he should be spending it on housing and welfare for refugees? It is like the guy is not a libertarian or something.

        1. I didn’t say I am opposed to any spending cuts, John. You should know better. If he actually ends up cutting spending, I will applaud it. So far, it’s just talk that we heard countless times before.

          1. I didn’t say you did. But reason has long supported the housing, feeding and caring for as many refugees as possible., So, clearly if Trump were a Libetarian that is what he would be spending the money on.

          2. No offense, when was the last time you heard any President talk about cutting 5% off the top of all budgets while actually in office? Maybe Reagan?

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m always skeptical but at face value is this is already a win. It’s almost certainly an attempt to drive voting in November, but what isn’t at this point? If nothing else, if this loses the day we’ll know that not even a Trump can spur Congress to cut spending which means we’ve lost completely.

            1. And what’s wrong w driving voting in a fiscally restraining direction?

      2. Oh noes!!! He cuts spending but not on what you want!!!

        Anyway, federal law enforecement should be cut first. Even your enemy-of-the-good suggestion is crap.

        1. Welfare should be cut first.

          1. Goes double if you’re including corporate welfare in that.

            1. Why, when literal welfare is already the biggest item on it’s own?

  4. Figures he would try to pay for his tax cuts to the rich on the backs of federal employees.

  5. Cut the military spending first.

    1. Can you articulate why the military should be cut first?
      The Defense budget is only 17% of federal spending, whereas entitlements are 70%. Providing for the common defense is also one of the few duties of the federal government according to the Constitution. How about we cut everything the federal government does that isn’t constitutional and then look at the military spending?

      1. OK, but how much of what DoD is doing is actually providing for the common defense?

        1. That depends on how you define common defense. Of you are an isolationist, probably too much. If you believe projecting power is the best defense, then either spending is just right or not enough.

    2. Additionally what part of the military are you cutting? If you are cutting equipment and training, that will just result in more casualties when the balloon goes up. If you are serious you will have to cut waste, most of which is forced upon the military through stupid regulations. It is my experience, however, when those who scream for military spending cuts, what they really mean is decreasing the size and readiness of our military.

      1. This is exactly what happened under Obama. He cut training, troop size and equipment, while doing nothing to address the waste that needs to be cut (in fact talking to my friends who are still in he increased the waste with stupid SJW programs).

        1. We haven’t won a war in 70 years. Thank goodness we have been in good enough position to withstand that point.

          Whimpers and moans about threats to reduce military budgets remind me of the Pirates general manager who responded to Ralph Kiner’s request for a raise during a seven-year run of leading the league in home runs, ‘Ralph, we finished last with you. I think we could finish last without you.’

          1. Cutting the budget isn’t the problem, if done right. However, considering your usual puerile posts, I doubt you could grasp anything as esoteric as cutting wasteful spending while not impacting effectiveness. You probably think endless lectures on sexual harassment actually accomplishes anything other than wasting valuable traiy time.

  6. you seem skeptical

  7. Electric Sequesterloo?

  8. This is great for Republican voters. They love it when politicians talk the cut talk, and walk the grow walk.

    1. Oh fuck off.

    2. As opposed to Democrats who only want to cut defense spending and increase all other spending, while raising taxes and burdensome regulations?

      1. .You’re quite a libertarian for a half-educated, bigoted, right-wing rube.

        1. Do you ever get tired off your sophomoric schtick? Do you really believe predictable, ignorant, ad hominems are at all intelligent? You accuse others of being hakf educated, yet you never post a cognitive arguement nor ever offer a pertinent counterpoint. Instead you really on puerile ad hominems to attack anyone different than you. You aren’t even amusing like Tony, because you are so boringly predictable. I don’t even need to read what you write, because I already know what it is going to say as soon as I see your name. If you can’t at least attempt to have an intelligent, mature convery, just go away. At this point you are just tiresome.

  9. That’s a start. Now do-

    Social security

    And get back with me.

    1. How about cut almost the whole DoJ (especially the FBI and ATF, neither have a constitutional mandate), most of the department of interior (also no constitutional basis), health and welfare, etc. How about you cut everything that is not authorized by the Constitution before cutting the military (which is one of the few things the Constitution gives the federal government authority over)? I bet if you cut even half of the departments that have no constitutional basis you could balance the budget fairly easily.

      1. A constitutional law scholar and a military-fellating right-wing yahoo. Quite a combination.

        1. Just plain jejune.

  10. You know, let’s not bicker and argue about what to cut; let’s just cut spending. Reduction of the debt should be the goal, not continuing to increase it.

  11. So, same budget as last year then?

  12. If departments will cut their spends by 5%, this would be a great victory for POTUS. I was writing an article for EduBirdie on this issue. So, I hope the problem of the deficit will be resolved sometime.

  13. Verizon promised to cut $10 Billion out of their budget over 5 years and the feds can’t even cut $10.

  14. That one person in the entire field of Republicans is talking a spending cut is promising. It’s almost like an about face from the usual “let’s outspend the Democrats” party mantra.

  15. I’ll run for President. I’ll run on a 100% cut to all government spending across the board. No exceptions.

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