Politics & Policy

A Disappointing Budget Bill

(Reuters photo: Larry Downing)

Republicans control the White House and both branches of Congress, but you wouldn’t know it by the budget they are preparing to pass into law.

After avoiding a government shutdown last week, and with another shutdown looming on Friday, House and Senate leaders have hammered out a 1,700-page, $1 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the end of fiscal year 2017 (which falls on September 30). It is noteworthy for what it does not include: namely, most of Donald Trump’s and Republicans’ recent campaign promises. The bill does not defund Planned Parenthood. It does not include any of the president’s deep cuts to domestic agencies. Public broadcasting is funded at current levels. The National Endowment for the Arts’ budget is increased. There’s even funding for California’s high-speed rail.

So what did Republicans get? As has been widely reported, the bill does not fund the president’s border wall. Instead, it provides $1.5 billion for border-security improvements, such as new technology and repairs to existing infrastructure. Inasmuch as the border wall was oversold as a solution to illegal border crossings, that may be a decent trade, but there is no indication that these measures at the border will be accompanied by financing for more-aggressive interior enforcement. Indeed, the $1.5 billion cannot be used to hire additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Additionally, while increasing spending for border security, Republicans are once again backing an increase to the H-2B visa program, which issues visas to foreign workers for temporary non-agricultural service jobs. Republicans temporarily quadrupled the program in the December 2015 omnibus bill, apparently under the impression that ski lifts would go unmanned without help from Guatemalan workers. Now they are set to double the program’s cap for the remainder of the fiscal year, giving seasonal businesses new opportunities to undercut American workers.

That said, there is one significant victory. The president received $15 billion for the Pentagon, half of his desired defense-budget increase, as well as $10 billion for emergency defense spending through the overseas contingency fund — and these defense outlays were not tethered to an equal increase in non-defense discretionary spending. That was the precedent during the Obama years, and it’s good that it has been broken.

Nonetheless, these things aside, it’s hard to chalk the bill up as anything but a loss. Yes, there were limits to what Republicans could do: They need Democratic votes to push a spending bill over the finish line, and they would undoubtedly shoulder the blame for any shutdown — justifiably or not. Presumably, Republican leadership decided that, since they’ll be negotiating another budget in September, they should keep their powder dry for the time being.

But Republicans have a tendency to keep their powder dry indefinitely, and it’s hard to imagine a different outcome in future negotiations. After all, Republican voters supposedly elected a “fighter,” yet neither the president nor the Republican leadership seem to have fought for much of anything in this round.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Update on Alfie Evans

In the few hours since I sent in the piece below, a remarkable succession of events has occurred that paint the decision of the UK authorities in ever-bleaker colors. In the hospital, Alfie was removed from the respirator in accordance with the court’s decision. For the moment, however, he has continued ... Read More
Sports

Hurray for the NBA

Last month, just before the Final Four, I did a Q&A on college basketball with our Theodore Kupfer. Teddy K. is back, by popular demand, joined by two other experts: Vivek Dave, an old friend of mine from Michigan, who has long lived in Chicago, and David French, National Review’s Kentucky Kid, now ... Read More
Economy & Business

Trade Misunderstandings

I was distracted by other policy topics last week but not enough not to notice Peter Navarro’s article in the Wall Street Journal, headlined “China’s Faux Comparative Advantage.” Considering Navarro’s position in the White House, it is unfortunate that it demonstrates some serious misunderstandings ... Read More
Culture

Monday Links

A Supercut of Epic Movie Explosions. Can You Solve These 10 Medieval Riddles? The cost to make a Margherita pizza: $1.77. How much restaurants charge on average for a pizza: $12. The actual costs of restaurant foods. Vintage animation lessons -- how to make things cute. London's "Great ... Read More
World

On Trade, No One Is Waiting for Washington

President Donald Trump’s flips and flops on trade are now as ubiquitous as his 5:00 a.m. tweets. Many predicted that trade-expansion efforts would come to a standstill and world commerce would suffer amidst all the uncertainty. Instead, the precise opposite has happened. In the last few months, it’s become ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Trump’s Syria Quandary

President Trump raised eyebrows recently when he ended a tweet lauding the airstrikes he’d ordered against chemical-weapons facilities in Syria with the words “mission accomplished.” The phrase, of course, became infamous in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, when President Bush used it in a speech ... Read More