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Elections 2020

A president’s budget can signal campaign priorities in an election year

Meghan McCarty Carino Feb 10, 2020
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President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Orlando, Florida, to officially launch his 2020 campaign on June 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
Elections 2020

A president’s budget can signal campaign priorities in an election year

Meghan McCarty Carino Feb 10, 2020
President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Orlando, Florida, to officially launch his 2020 campaign on June 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
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President Trump is scheduled to release his budget for the coming fiscal year later today. Like most presidential budgets, it’s just a starting point and is likely to be changed many times as it makes its way through a divided Congress. Presidents use budgets to signpost their priorities. In an election year, that signposting takes on even greater importance.

President Reagan’s 1984 re-election celebrated good times, as embodied in the TV advertisement campaign, “Morning in America.”

The message came through loud and clear in Reagan’s budget proposal that year said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

“The keyword was optimism, a lot of soaring rhetoric,” he said.

Administrations often paint rosy economic pictures of the future in their budgets during election years, he said, with “a lot of aspirational programs, not so much discussion of the deficit and the debt.”

Republican political strategist Alex Conant said budgets can also highlight programs that appeal to particular geographic areas important to winning an election.

“There are a lot of regional things — so funding for the Great Lakes, obviously important to a lot of Midwestern states. Hurricane spending is important for Florida,” he said, along with potential bipartisan crowd-pleasers like infrastructure spending.

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