The Week Ahead In Politics
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Amidst all the political turmoil, including top White House staffers resigning after reports of domestic abuse, tomorrow, the president will release his budget. Now, normally a presidential budget would be big news, but this time, it's a bit anticlimactic. Why? NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson is about to tell us. Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it seems a little strange to be talking about why something doesn't matter, but here we are, saying President Trump's budget - which is being released tomorrow - suddenly isn't that important. How did that happen?
LIASSON: Presidents' budgets are always political documents. They're not a piece of legislation, but they do express the president's priorities. And, of course, the cliche is to say that the president's budget is dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. This one is probably dead as a doornail. And the reason is that Republicans and Democrats just passed a massive, two-year spending bill, which raises the caps for domestic and defense spending. And the White House was mostly a bystander in those negotiations. So what the president says in his budget tomorrow will not affect spending very much. Congress probably won't be passing a 2019 budget resolution. The bottom line is, in this instance, Congress seems to be ignoring the president.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, OK. But when the budget comes out tomorrow, the spotlight will probably turn to White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, right? He was famously hawkish on the deficit when he was in Congress. What will he have to say?
LIASSON: Well, we're looking forward to what he has to say about this because he really personifies the total reversal by Republicans about deficit spending. They've done a 180-degree turn on this. Most economists say what they just did was fiscally irresponsible, exactly the opposite of what you want to do when the economy is booming, and there's low unemployment. You would rather run a small deficit or a surplus, so you have some room to spend if the economy does go into a recession, which - most economists think it will in the next couple of years because this expansion is getting so old. But instead, Republicans passed a tax cut that adds $1.5 trillion dollars to the deficit. Now the spending bill treasury just announced it's going to issue almost a trillion dollars of new debt next year. That's an 84 percent increase.
LIASSON: So this is exactly the kind of thing that Republicans railed against when Obama was in office. And Senator Rand Paul, in his brief effort to hold up that funding bill, asked, are we only for fiscal responsibility when we're in the minority? And I guess the answer is yes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. What about the issue of immigration, which is, of course, tied to budget deal-making in Congress right now? Where does that stand, and where does the president stand?
LIASSON: President Trump has laid out four pillars of the deal that he wants after he lifted the protection from deportation for these young people called DREAMers or DACA recipients. They were protected from deportation by President Obama. Trump lifted that protection. He gave Congress a deadline of March 5 before he says he'll start deporting those kids. What Trump wants is a path to citizenship for these kids. In exchange, he wants an end to the diversity lottery, an end to family reunification migration - he calls it chain migration. And, of course, he wants funding for the wall.
What's interesting is when you listen to people on Capitol Hill, including Republicans in Senate leadership, they are really only talking about two of the president's four pillars. In other words, they want border security and wall funding in exchange for some kind of a path to legalization or citizenship for the DREAMers. They think a smaller, more narrow deal is more doable. So most Republicans also think that Donald Trump will sign whatever Congress sends him on immigration. Otherwise, he has to start deporting the DREAMers. Either way, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that he would put a bill on the floor this week with an open process. That means amendments, votes, old fashioned legislating - something we haven't seen in a very long time in Washington.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Something to look forward to. NPR's political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And elsewhere in our program, we'll get the details of that congressional spending bill.
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