by THE EDITORIAL BOARD · February 12, 2018
Copies of President Trump’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year were delivered to the Capitol on Monday. Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump told the “forgotten men and women of our country” that he would champion them. As evidence that he was a different kind of Republican, he promised not to cut Medicare, Medicaid and other programs that benefit poor and middle-class families.
On Monday, President Trump proposed a budget that would slash spending on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, transportation and other essential government services, all while increasing the federal deficit.
Mr. Trump’s 2019 budget, combined with the tax cuts Republicans passed last year, would amount to one of the greatest transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich in generations. It would also charge trillions of dollars in new debt to the account of future Americans. It’s a plan that could please only far-right ideologues who want to dissolve nearly every part of the federal government, save the military.
The proposal would raise military spending by 14.1 percent while cutting funding for the State Department — the agency that has a mandate to resolve problems without going to war — by 26.9 percent. It would cut the Department of Health and Human Services by 20.3 percent and the Department of Education by 10.5 percent. It calls for (yet again) the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and proposes cutting food stamps by $213 billion, or around 30 percent, over 10 years. Medicare and Medicaid, which benefit one-third of Americans, are targeted for cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars.
If Congress adopted Mr. Trump’s proposal, millions of people would stand to lose health insurance, subsidized food, low-cost housing and other benefits. The result would be to greatly increase poverty and hunger in America.
This is surely not what most of Mr. Trump’s working-class supporters imagined during the primary and general election campaigns. In May 2015, Candidate Trump tweeted, “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.” And in an April 2016 ad that ran in Pennsylvania he promised to “save Social Security and Medicare without cuts.”
But wait, there’s more. Another of Mr. Trump’s promises was to build the “gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land,” a promise that he referred to as recently as his State of the Union address in January. Yet his budget recommends slashing funding for Amtrak and grant programs that help local and state governments pay for highway and transit projects. Over all, the administration wants to reduce the Department of Transportation’s budget by nearly a fifth. The budget would also effectively cut the Highway Trust Fund by $122 billion over a decade.
No doubt Mr. Trump will claim he is still serious about infrastructure by pointing to a separate infrastructure proposal he announced on Monday. In that document, the administration says it will bolster investment by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. But the math simply doesn’t add up. The White House suggests that the federal government would put up only $200 billion, which would be enough to get state and local governments and the private sector to supply the rest of the money. But where would most cities and states find those funds? Already strapped, many will struggle to raise new tax revenue, because the Republican tax law limited the deductibility of state and local taxes. The private sector might be interested, but only in projects like toll roads that produce a steady and rich source of income.
It will be tempting for some to dismiss Mr. Trump’s budget as a marketing stunt by his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who was earlier a Tea Party zealot in Congress. After all, Congress last week passed, and Mr. Trump signed, a two-year bipartisan budget that authorizes a significant increase in domestic, as well as military, spending.
But presidential budgets are statements of principles. They tend to reveal how administrations will try to change policy and funding levels when Congress comes up with detailed appropriations bills for individual departments. With this budget, the Trump administration is giving notice that it will do everything it can to torpedo the bipartisan budget deal, regardless of the needs of millions of Americans.