White House

Does Trump understand how the federal budget process works?

President declares he has ‘overruled’ staff on Special Olympics, but it’s Congress who will decide

President Donald Trump talks with journalists before departing the White House on March 20. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a curious statement that defies the realities of the federal spending process, President Donald Trump declared Thursday that “the Special Olympics will be funded” because he has “overruled” his own staff who wanted to cut off the federal spigot to the charity.

The Education Department’s fiscal 2020 spending request proposes eliminating $17.6 million for the Special Olympics, and Secretary Betsy DeVos and other Trump surrogates say the charity simply does not need the federal funds.

[Trump administration’s Special Olympics cuts never had a chance]

They also have lashed out at outraged congressional Democrats.

Matt Wolking, a deputy communications director for Trump’s re-election effort, tweeted this: “I’m sure Democrats who see abortion as the cure for Down syndrome and other disabilities are sincerely concerned about kids having the chance to be in the Special Olympics.” 

Watch: Why presidential budget requests are usually dead on arrival

But the president, as he often does when he perceives something hurting him politically, tried to cast himself as a one-man fixer and savior.

“The Special Olympics will be funded, I just told my people,” Trump said as he departed the White House for a rally in Michigan and then a weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “I just authorized funding for the Special Olympics.

“I have overridden my people, we’re funding the Special Olympics,” he said over Marine One’s engines on the executive mansion’s South Lawn.

[Trump veers off post-Mueller ‘no collusion’ victory message as conservatives worry]

But that isn’t how federal budgeting works.

Administrations propose spending plans and Congress sometimes approves parts of them, often passing legislation that either takes part of a president’s request or simply ignores it.

An example: The Trump administration’s attempts to zero the Special Olympics funding in its first two budget requests. Congress ignored the proposal.

[Trump returns to campaign trail in post-Mueller report fighting mood]

Another example: Steep foreign aid cuts the administration has proposed each year, only to see lawmakers from both parties put those funds into the bills they eventually passed.

The president could order his administration to move funds around once lawmakers have passed a fiscal 2020 spending bill if they opted against funding the Special Olympics — but he would still need the heads of the House and Senate spending committees to sign off.

Congress controls the power of the federal purse, not the occupant of the White House, something the president has found out time and again. And much to his frustration.

In March 2018, for instance, an angry Trump stormed out of Washington after grudgingly signing a massive omnibus spending bill on a Friday afternoon despite threatening to veto it earlier that day. It was a move that stunned even his GOP supporters. And late last year, Trump forced a government shutdown in a showdown with Democrats over money for his proposed southern border wall.

In the shutdown battle, he found out again about Congress’s spending powers. He got far less for his wall proposal, and had to use a national emergency to unlock additional funds for the project — monies that courts might prevent him from using.

Meantime, Trump is expected to speak about health care and other issues at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, rally Thursday. Earlier this week, his administration moved in a court filing to terminate the entire 2010 health law — drawing rebukes from Democrats and Republicans alike, since his party has no feasible replacement plan ready to go.

But three days later, Trump said GOP Sens. John Barrasso, Bill Cassidy, Tim Scott, and other “great people” are working on a health care plan that would, if it passesd by both chambers, replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

He said the group totals “four or five” lawmakers. Trump again said he wants to make sure those with pre-existing conditions are protected, and used his comments leaving the White House to blast the 2010 law.

Minutes after the president was finished speaking, the White House said in a statement Thursday it would advance a health care plan that would protect people with pre-existing conditions, lower prices for care and prescription drugs, and end surprise medical bills.

President Trump told a rally crowd in Michigan Thursday night that he supports “full funding” for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. He promised the Grand Rapids crowd to get $300 million for the project as he tries to again win the state in 2020.

As with the Special Olympics, this stands in contrast with Trump's own fiscal 2020 budget request, which called for slashing the funding by 90 percent, down to $30 million from the $300 million total that was enacted in fiscal 2019.

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.


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