On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s 2018 proposed budget was unveiled. The president was out of town. Perhaps not a bad idea. This will be a very hard sell. To Congress. To the American people.
It’s called “A New Foundation for American Greatness” and would slash federal spending by $4.5 trillion over 10 years. The cuts come with a huge price that would be paid disproportionately by the poor, disabled and elderly.
The president does not touch the third rail of entitlement programs – Social Security and Medicare – but does cut $800 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years. Also lopped off is $192 billion for food assistance. Disability payments are cut by $72 billion.
Another savings – $40 billion over 10 years – comes from not allowing undocumented immigrants to collect the child-care tax credit or earned-income tax credit even if their children are U.S. citizens. This latter point may prove popular with some of the president’s base, but it remains a heartless cut.
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The proposed budget will increase military spending by 10 percent and includes $1.6 billion for the beginning of the U.S.-Mexican border wall. The president does make good on his promise to invest in infrastructure: $200 billion. And an initiative of his daughter Ivanka Trump – six weeks of paid family leave – will receive $19 billion.
The house of cards is built on the assumption the economy will grow by 3 percent over the next decade. But the Congressional Budget Office is projecting 1.9 percent growth, while the Fed projects 1.8 percent.
The president’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Monday, “The ugly truth is this: You can never balance the budget at 1.9 percent growth. It’s just not going to happen.”
Saying the economy will grow 3 percent every year for the next 10 years doesn’t make that happen, either.
Trump wants a major revision of the federal tax code, which could stimulate the economy, but there are no details for such tax reform. All federal programs should be continually evaluated for effectiveness and affordability, and that must include Social Security and Medicare, regardless of the politics.
Cutting federal funding for Medicaid transfers the burden to states. If states with responsible leaders have to pick up the burden, taxes will rise locally. And in states where leaders are less compassionate, people will fall into the cracks.
Presidents’ budgets are suggestions, road maps, grand ideas. They show priorities, and that often is about it. Congress will battle this out, and it is unlikely many of Trump’s draconian proposed cuts will stay.
The poor and the elderly don’t pay as much taxes as the 1 or 2 percent, but their needs are just as real. Federal budgets are a mixture of politics and policy competing for a finite amount of revenue. But Congress must not lose sight of the most important part of the American treasury: Americans. All Americans. A budget without a heart should be dead on arrival.