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At The White House, It's Budget Day


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

It is budget day at the White House. The president unveils his spending plan for much of the government for a whole year, and he's going to do it at an elementary school. The big theme - creating opportunity for all. But even before the bound copy of the budget is delivered to Congress, the fate of this budget is sealed.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now. Good morning.


WERTHEIMER: Now, there was a time when the president unveiled his budget and it was a big deal. But if you listen to talking heads, Tam, they dismiss the budget with just three words: dead on arrival. Have we really come to the part where the president's budget is irrelevant?

KEITH: Yes. In modern times, budgets are political documents. But this one is likely to have even less of an impact than most. And that's because the House and Senate already agreed to spending levels for the next two years out back in December. So, they've already checked that box. Plus, it's an election year where nothing ever really happens.


KEITH: So if you hear a giant thud or maybe just a little quiet thud later today, that is probably the president's budget being delivered.

WERTHEIMER: Well, if everyone in Washington is attuned to this reality, then what is the point of doing it?

KEITH: Well, first off, it is required. But more to the point, it's sort of a vision thing. It's the president saying: In a perfect world, this is what I would do. And here's how the White House describes it. It says: It invests in infrastructure, job training, preschool; cuts taxes for working Americans while closing tax loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy and well-connected; and reduces the deficit, though some would disagree with that part.

And what it allows the president to do in an election year is say Democrats are for the middle class and helping a regular working people, and Republicans are all about defending the rich. And that's why, as part of his plan, the president calls for cutting taxes for 13 million low-income workers and paying for it by closing this tax loophole enjoyed by wealthy hedge fund managers. And if this sounds familiar it's because it is, that this has been a common theme.

WERTHEIMER: Last year, the president's budget aimed higher. He set out a vision for a grand bargain to cut the deficit and deal with long-term issues with entitlement programs. What about that? Did that get back in?

KEITH: It is not back in. The most notable part of that budget last year was that changing the way cost of living adjustments were calculated for Social Security. And it was hugely unpopular on the left and basically didn't get the president enough of what he wanted from Republicans. There was no grand bargain at the end of it. All there was a lot of pain for suggesting something difficult and unpopular.

A bunch of Democrats in Congress wrote a letter to the president saying please don't do that again, and he's not doing it again.

WERTHEIMER: So, will the House and Senate work on their own separate budgets this year?

KEITH: Yes, and no. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan yesterday came out with a report blasting the war on poverty. And it was seen as a preview of what his own budget is likely to emphasize when it comes out later this month. It was highly critical of many of the programs for the poor. Though, one interesting thing is that it looks favorably at some of the very tax credits the president hopes to expand.

On the Senate side, Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray doesn't plan to do a budget plan this year because she says the December deal was a budget enough. Also, just because of the way the Senate works in the way budgets work, having a formal budget in the Senate would force Democrats to take lots of votes for public consumption on amendments that would essentially be written to wind up as negative campaign ads. And so, the Senate just is not going there.

WERTHEIMER: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks for joining us.

KEITH: Glad to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.