White House Releases 2020 Budget

The White House Office of Management and Budget released the Administration’s $4.7 trillion FY2020 Budget, titled A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First., on March 11. WWEMA’s Vanessa Leiby outlines the details, explaining that we may once again be facing a showdown in September.

Potential for showdown in September

By Vanessa M. Leiby

The White House Office of Management and Budget released the Administration’s $4.7 trillion FY2020 Budget, titled A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First., on March 11. Delayed in part due to the 35-day partial government shutdown, the budget outlines the Administration’s key funding priorities, which include addressing wasteful Washington spending, strengthening the southern border, promoting a healthy American economy, and maintaining a strong national defense.

In order to meet these objectives, the budget includes $2.7 trillion in spending cuts to meet the President’s directive to reduce non-defense program spending by 5 percent below the 2019 cap level. It also requests $8.6 billion to build a southern border wall and funding to enhance immigration actions to stem the flow of illegal immigrants; increases funding for the military to bolster global strength and invest in capabilities like artificial intelligence, a space force, and hypersonics to address future conflict domains; and invests in prevention, treatment, research, and recovery to combat the opioid epidemic. It also proposes to hold institutions of higher education accountable for results by requiring them to share a portion of the financial responsibility associated with Federal student loans; continues the reorganization to modernize government for the 21st century; and invests over $80 billion in veterans’ health care. A copy of the budget can be found at www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/budget-fy2020.pdf.

The proposal also calls on Congress to pass legislation that generates at least $1 trillion in infrastructure investment. The priorities include seeking a long-term surface transportation reauthorization and providing $200 billion for other infrastructure priorities, including water infrastructure. It specifically calls out $300 million for two innovative approaches to fund water infrastructure investment for Army Corps projects. That being said, a closer look at the budget numbers reveals significant decreases from FY2019 enacted levels for Title XVI, as well as drinking water and clean water state revolving loan funds, WIFIA, and the USDA water and wastewater funding. It does, however, provide $2 million in new funding for drinking water infrastructure resiliency and sustainability. It also proposes funding for the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) grant programs to assist in lead testing and drinking water fountain replacements in schools, sewer overflow control, and water infrastructure workforce investment.

In its perennial efforts to decrease the size of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it calls for a 31 percent decrease from FY2019 estimates from $9 billion to $6.1 billion for FY2020. In addition to permitting and regulatory reform, efforts focus on enhancing cooperative federalism with the states, supporting healthier schools by establishing a $50 million multimedia grant program, $425 million to control air pollution and radiation exposure, funding support to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and funding of $1 billion for Superfund site cleanups. Funding is included for Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay programs and support for EPA research activities.

Typically viewed as “dead-on-arrival” to Congress, this year’s budget will likely be no exception. In the past two years, the Republican-controlled Congress has largely ignored the President’s budget and reinstated many of the programs proposed to be cut, and refused to invest in border wall initiatives. Of note, with a united Republican-controlled Congress during the last two years, passage of the 12 appropriations spending bills has been possible. While last year was a tug-of-war between Congress and the White House, this year may very well be characterized by a tug-of-war between the now-divided Congress with Democrat and Republican in-fighting potentially complicating passage of the 12 spending bills in regular order.

An empowered Democrat-controlled House will likely seek to flex its muscles to push its party agenda, if in fact that can be articulated given the wide spectrum of positions inside the party brought on by a more progressive and demanding freshman class of legislators. Likewise, with increased power to the Democrats, it will be interesting to see if this forces Republicans to take a harder line on issues and move more towards support of the White House priorities to ensure a conference that meets more in the middle. Given this scenario, it looks like we may once again be facing a showdown in September, this time perhaps with the White House cheering from the sidelines. WW

About the Author: Vanessa M. Leiby is the executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA). A trade association formed in 1908, WWEMA is the voice of water and wastewater technology providers in the water sector. More information about WWEMA can be found at www.wwema.org.

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