DEMINT: Donald Trump’s Fiscally Conservative Budgets

Jim DeMint Former U.S. Senator from South Carolina
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Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column supporting President Trump’s FY 2021 Budget proposal. You can find a counterpoint here, where Jonathan Bydlak argues it continues Washington’s wasteful spending.

One of the most common misconceptions I hear about Donald Trump is that he is not a fiscal conservative.

Yes, everyone acknowledges he is the most successful pro-life president in American history. It cannot be seriously denied he is presiding over the widest and deepest economic expansion in memory. He’s leading a quiet revolution in regulatory reform. He’s ending what were once thought to be “forever wars” in the Middle East. He’s finally taken the stand on illegal immigration the American people have wanted for a generation. And he’s exposed the corruption of the Beltway Swamp like no president in our lifetime.

But on the issue of federal spending, President Trump’s critics on the Left and Right accuse him of being a budget-busting, big-government Republican. Trillion-dollar deficits speak for themselves, they say. And of course, the president has signed many appropriations bills I would have preferred he veto. He went along with bipartisan congressional leaders to bust the budget caps conservatives fought so hard to implement under President Obama.

And yet, every year, when the president has presented his budget proposals to Congress, they have contained more spending cuts than any president in history. They sought to achieve balance within 10-15 years. They outline streamlining reforms to bloated and dysfunctional programs. His chief budget advisers – Mick Mulvaney and Russell Vought – are probably the most fiscally conservative senior members of the Trump administration.

Trump is not an ideological libertarian; we can all agree on that. He never said he was. The budget deficit is understandably not a higher priority for him than, say, the economy, trade, immigration or rebuilding our military. On the other hand, politics – especially budget politics – is a team sport.

And where have most congressional Republicans been since the president took office in 2019? They have been griping about the same spending caps they celebrated when Barack Obama was in office. Last year, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby called Trump’s budget attempts to keep spending below caps “draconian.” They have been working with Democrats in the House and Senate to plus-up spending across the board. They did it in 2017 and 2018 when Republicans had unified control of Congress, and the spending has only accelerated since Democrats took over the House of Representatives last year.

The only way Congress ever restrains spending is when conservatives – in and out of government, on and off Capitol Hill – rally together to fight. The president’s budget and his veto pen are his biggest weapons. For three years, it has been congressional Democrats and Republicans, not the president, surrendering the fight on spending. Indeed, Congress continues to ignore the president’s fiscally responsible budgets, bust the caps and add to the national debt.

Just this week, the Senate Budget Committee – the one controlled by Republicans – announced that it was not even going to hold hearings on the president’s budget submission. Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee hearings, controlled by Democrats, has announced it won’t write their own budget but will surely engage in partisan attacks against the Administration’s proposals.

No president can pass a budget by himself. He can’t make Congress take it up, let alone support his reforms. Nor can he fight on every front all at once. Congressional Republicans have stood with the president on taxes, impeachment, and the Courts. But on spending, they have gone their own way, the way of the Swamp.

It’s an election year now, and Democrats would love nothing more than to trigger another government shutdown in the cynical confidence the media will blame the president. And Washington Republicans love trying to buy goodwill from voters with money borrowed from our grandkids. So this year’s spending totals may end up no better than the last three years.

But it’s not Donald Trump’s fault. And when – not if – he wins re-election in the fall, the second Trump Administration will be ready to fight, and win, on this issue too.

Jim DeMint (@JimDeMint) served South Carolina in the U.S. Senate from 2005-2013. He is now chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute, a nonprofit group advocating for limited government.