The budget outline President Donald Trump issued in March was horrifying, with massive cuts to everything from the Environmental Protection Agency to the National Institutes of Health. The detailed proposal he is expected to release tomorrow is even worse, driven by wildly unrealistic assumptions about the economy and deeply cynical ones about the millions of Americans struggling in it. Far from the populist rhetoric on which Mr. Trump campaigned, it represents a complete reversion to self-serving conservative ideas about "makers and takers" that provide huge benefits to the wealthy and leave the working poor behind.
Reports about the proposal highlight planned changes to Medicaid that track with and may even go beyond what was included even in the American Health Care Act, the House of Representatives' replacement for Obamacare that is mercifully stalled in the Senate. Cuts of $800 billion over the next decade could result in 10 million or more people losing their health insurance. The ACHA plan changes the nature of Medicaid from an open-ended partnership between the federal government and the states to provide health care for the poor to one in which Washington would provide a fixed amount of funds to each state, a system that would inevitably result in fewer benefits, more uninsured and worse health.
But that's not all. Mr. Trump is expected to propose changes to the Social Security disability program, which provides limited support to those who are unable to work, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Including Medicaid, the total level of safety net cuts proposed in the budget is expected to be as high as $1.7 trillion over a decade. The president is also expected to propose giving states greater flexibility to create work requirements for such programs, creating the possibility of wide inequities in the ability of the working poor to afford basic necessities.
Although these policies are at least somewhat divergent from Mr. Trump's campaign rhetoric — particularly as it relates to preserving Social Security — they fall neatly within his stated belief that too many people are collecting welfare rather than going to work.
That represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of being poor in America today. Most safety net programs — including food stamps — already have work requirements, and their benefits are far too modest to make an appealing alternative to work anyway. SNAP benefits average about $31 per week per person, and Social Security disability payments average less than $1,200 per month. And although participation in both programs expanded substantially during the Great Recession, the numbers have been on the decline in recent years. If the drop hasn't been as great as many might have hoped, the reason isn't an unwillingness of participants to work, it's the fact that too many of the jobs that have been created pay wages too low to support a family. Unemployment and poverty statistics don't begin to tell the full story of workers' struggle to keep up.
Mr. Trump's policy proposal to address that is a massive tax cut for the rich in the form of lower individual and business income tax rates, lower capital gains tax rates and an elimination of the estate tax. His budget director claims his plan would jolt the economy to 3 percent annual growth, far more than most economists think is realistic. What it would actually accomplish is a massive increase in the deficit that even the draconian cuts Mr. Trump is proposing would fail to offset — particularly given his simultaneous efforts to increase defense spending and build a wall on the Southern border that Mexico will never pay for.
In as much as this may fulfill the dreams of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has long led an ideological crusade to destroy the social safety net, and the tea party faction in his chamber, it is likely dead on arrival in the Senate, where passage would be difficult even under special rules that allow the majority party to exempt some budget-related legislation from the filibuster. Some Republican senators had already signaled an unwillingness to reverse the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, much less to fundamentally re-write the whole program, and moderate Republican governors like Massachusetts' Charlie Baker — and, to a lesser extent, Maryland's Larry Hogan — have spoken out against those cuts.
This budget looks like a political statement, not a genuine effort at governing, and oddly enough, one that is directly counter to the interests of the working class Americans Mr. Trump courted during the campaign. Trump voters need to ask themselves, is this the work of a different kind of leader, or just another politician saying one thing during the campaign and something else once he's elected?