ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
What if you spent months working on a household budget only to find that your partner or spouse had already emptied your joint checking account to go on a spending spree? That's kind of what happened to President Trump. The president unveiled his budget proposal this morning, offering a detailed blueprint of how he thinks the government should spend its money next year, but members of Congress who actually control the purse strings had already come up with their own bigger spending plan last week.
NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So a presidential budget is usually seen as a political document rather than an actual binding financial plan. Is that even more true this year? I mean, what do you get out of this budget?
HORSLEY: You're right. Lawmakers often ignore the White House budget when it comes out. This year, lawmakers acted even before the budget came out and agreed to their own top-line spending levels for both this year and next. Now, there is one area where the White House is in sync with Congress, and that's defense spending. Trump's budget seeks $716 billion in defense spending next year, which, by coincidence, is exactly what lawmakers agreed to last week.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our military was totally depleted, and we will have a military like we've never had before.
HORSLEY: There's more of a disconnect, though, on the domestic side, where Trump wants spending cuts but Congress has authorized more money next year - $68 billion more for discretionary nondefense programs.
SHAPIRO: If Congress is going to go its own way on the budget anyway, what difference does this proposed budget from the president make?
HORSLEY: Well, it's a signal of the White House priorities. For example, Trump wants more money for border security, including $18 billion for his border wall plus additional money for Border Patrol agents, ICE officers and tens of thousands of detention beds. Now, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney was pretty frank this afternoon in saying Congress is not likely to approve that kind of money except as part of a broader agreement on immigration. But Mulvaney says the point of this exercise is for the administration to put a marker down on spending.
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MICK MULVANEY: The executive budget has always been a messaging document. What are the messages this year? Number one, you don't have to spend all of this money, Congress. But if you do, here is how we would prefer to see you spend it.
HORSLEY: For example, the White House is calling for a 34 percent cut in EPA spending, a 26 percent cut in State Department spending and a 16 percent cut in spending by the Agriculture Department, which, by the way, includes some steps on welfare reform - for example, more stringent work requirements for people receiving food stamps.
SHAPIRO: Scott, any budget is going to have the revenue element and the spending element. And Congress has not only agreed to spend more money. Lawmakers have also cut taxes by $1 and a half trillion. What does that do for the federal deficit?
HORSLEY: The deficit is expected to balloon. The White House is predicting that it's going to grow this year to more than $800 billion or more than 4 percent of the overall economy. Next year, the deficit is projected to hit 4.7 percent of GDP. Now, it'd be one thing to see deficits that big in a time of recession, but it's really remarkable to see that much red ink when the economy is doing well as it is right now and we're near full employment.
And what's more, the White House may actually be lowballing the deficit figure because this budget assumes fairly robust economic growth. They expect growth to grow from 2.3 percent last year to 3 percent this year, 3.2 percent next year and then to hold at 3 percent or higher all the way through 2024. A lot of independent economists think that's overly rosy. And if they're right, the federal deficits could get even bigger.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Horsley speaking with us from the White House. Thanks, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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