Last year, Trump added $1.5 trillion to the national debt to ensure tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Now, the White House is warning Congress that the United States cannot afford to add $1.6 billion to the deficit to expand health-care options for veterans.
In a letter, the Trump administration demanded that lawmakers fund a popular veterans’ health-care program — which allows former troops to spend public funds on private doctors and hospitals — with cuts to other parts of the budget. Democrats, and some top Senate Republicans, prefer to raise the current caps on discretionary spending instead.
When Republican Congress passed its omnibus budget bill back in March, the private veterans’ health-care program was on the mandatory side of the ledger. This was an accounting trick that allowed Republican lawmakers (who knew that federal spending on the program was going to increase) not to account for its cost when setting a discretionary budget.
But last month, president Trump signed a law that reorganized veterans’ health care, and shifted funding for the private program into the discretionary column. This did not significantly increase the overall cost of domestic spending — but it did lift the price tag on the discretionary budget above previously set caps; It produced a budget shortfall that wasn’t a product of changes in fiscal reality, so much as in accounting practices.