Trump’s budget breaks a lot of promises

Programs supporting many of Trump’s own voters get the ax.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The White House released Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year on Tuesday, and appears to have forgotten some of the promises made before Trump took office.

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters on Monday that he made the case for “reforming” Social Security and Medicare to Trump.

“The President said, no, I’m going to keep my promises,” Mulvaney said. “And I said, well, I’d still like to balance the budget. He goes, I still want you to balance the budget, just don’t do it changing these programs. And we were able to do it.”

Except they were not — as the budget in fact does propose cuts to Social Security and several other programs that would break or otherwise mangle Trump’s promises.

“We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or number of people on those programs,” Mulvaney said. “We’ll measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off those programs and get back to their own lives.”

It’s a nice, if heartless, sentiment, as the reality of these cuts will feel different to people who were comforted by Trump’s promises during the campaign and may now be surprised to find how drastically their lives could change under the president’s proposed budget.

As Joe Biden’s apocryphal dad used to say, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Trump’s promises will be tested by the budget cuts he fight to enact this year. Here are the main areas where Trump would be breaking his promises, if the budget gets passed into law:

Social security

When Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, he made a big promise that he would save Social Security without cuts:

Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it. People have been paying it for years. And now many of these candidates want to cut it. You save it by making the United States, by making us rich again, by taking back all of the money that’s being lost.

Instead, his budget proposes to cut an important part of Social Security: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). It, along with the similar Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, would drop by $72 billion over the next ten years. The program, funded through payroll taxes, provides benefits (averaging $773 per month) to people with disabilities younger than 65 who have worked a certain number of years, accumulating social security credits. The program is not wasteful, is not easy to access, and there is no evidence it significantly hurts labor force participation.

Mulvaney rationalized the cuts to SSDI by arguing that it is not part of Social Security.

“But people say, ‘Oh, Social Security Disability Insurance is part of Social Security,’ if you ask 999 people out of 1,000, they’ll say it’s not part of Social Security,” he said. “It’s old age retirement that they think of as Social Security.”

Medicaid

Trump promised to save Medicaid “without cuts.”

Instead, Trump’s budget embraces massive, “astounding” cuts to Medicaid, starting with a $610 billion reduction in the new budget proposal. The document assumes the passage of the House’s health care bill, which according to the Congressional Budget Office could kick 14 million low-income people off their coverage over the next ten years.

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters on Monday that Trump “made it very clear that he supports what the House is doing because it’s better than the alternative” — Obamacare.

So the $839 billion in Medicaid cuts in Trumpcare, combined with the additional $610 billion cut in the budget document mean that Medicaid would be slashed by $1.4 trillion over 10 years.

The bill would begin to block-grant Medicaid, which is something that Trump did in fact promise to do on the campaign. This would also be an effective cut, as the growing costs of health care and inflation would make it hard for the grants to cover patients’ needs.

Border wall

Trump promised, over and over again, that Mexico would pay for the wall he wants to build on the southern border, and that it would cost $10 billion:

That’s why Mexico is going to pay for the wall, folks. Mexico — look, the wall, we need actually, 2,000 miles. We need 1,000. Because we have a lot of natural barriers. The wall will cost $10 billion. Expensive wall. A Trump wall. Bring it in under budget, ahead of schedule. I have to name it after myself because maybe, you know, should I name it after myself? I don’t think so. We want more than a wall. We will have a real wall, it’s going to be a great wall and it’s going to work.

He also promised to build the wall within two years.

The budget requests $1.6 billion for actual construction of the wall, which is just a downpayment of a project that would cost at least $25 billion, according to contractor estimates. Mulvaney said the request was for “actual bricks and mortar construction.”

Missing in the request is any mention of Mexico paying for the wall, or any assurances as to the speed of its construction.

Reducing the debt

Not only did Trump promise to “reduce our $18 trillion in debt,” he also famously told Bob Woodward that he could get rid of the debt “fairly quickly.” When pressed, he said, “Well, I would say over a period of eight years.”

The budget, even with its draconian cuts, does not even project itself to touch the debt over 10 years. Mulvaney himself admitted the promise was “hyperbole,” which is a generous term since there is no debt reduction projected in the budget document.

As for how he proposed to do this, one example he used during the campaign was boosting revenue through more oil and gas extraction. During a speech on energy in North Dakota, Trump said that “we’ll make so much money” from fossil fuels that “we’ll start to pay down our $19 trillion in debt.” His budget proposal projects an additional $1.8 billion in revenue by 2027 if it succeeds in opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, and saving $3.5 billion over 10 years if it cancels the revenue sharing program which gives a portion of royalty payments for oil extracted from their coastal waters. Even if both of these incredibly contentious proposals pass, the national debt is 19 thousand billion dollars, and the deficit is about a thousand billion dollars, making the 5.3 billion dollars saved a drop in the bucket.

The White House has argued that with higher growth, it will be able to address budgetary concerns more easily, but with the even lower taxes Trump proposes, this becomes impossible. During the campaign, even former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly pushed back on Trump’s contention that he could both cut the debt with higher revenue from growth and cut taxes.

O’REILLY: Ok. But then you are going to have to raise taxes to get more money in to pay down that debt.

TRUMP: The problem we have is our taxes are so high that nobody can — everybody is choking.

O’REILLY: I don’t know how — even if you gin the economy up, how does that pay down $21 trillion? You have to take money from the corporations and people to do it.

TRUMP: Bill, the politicians have caused this problem. Just so you understand.

O’REILLY: I understand that.

TRUMP: They have caused this problem over the years. Listen, the politicians have caused this problem. We’re going to make our country dynamic again. Now, companies, big companies like Pfizer are leaving. They’re going to make it worse. They’re leaving. It’s called corporate inversion — many companies are leaving because the taxes are so high. We have to lower taxes not raise taxes.

O’REILLY: All right. But if you cut the taxes again the revenue to pay down the debt then leaves. Ok. But that’s for another day.

TRUMP: No. No the country will be more dynamic. It will be a dynamic. We are going to create a dynamic economy where real jobs are going to be pouring into the country and we’ll have a country that is sustainable. It will work — Bill.

O’REILLY: Still the debt is still on the books. Now, you say you’re going to be in the next —

TRUMP: You are going to slowly pay down the debt.

O’Reilly then changed the subject, so Trump never explained how. Neither does his budget.

Balancing the budget

Trump promised to do a few things when it came to balancing the budget deficit, including:

  • “I would freeze the budget, I would freeze expenditures.”
  • TRUMP: There are so many things that we can cut … and we can balance the budget very quickly. HANNITY: You think in five years? TRUMP: I think over a five-year period. And I don’t know, maybe I could even surprise you.

The budget is not frozen, nor are expenditures. The government is legally required to outlay funds for many tasks its citizens expect it to do, so promises to freeze the budget will fail unless the federal government shuts down for a long time.

Trump did promise to cut many of the agencies, and it’s true that in the budget proposal many agencies would get a cut. “We are going to cut many of the agencies, we will balance our budget and we will be dynamic again,” he said in a February primary debate.

However, he also promised to balance the budget over five years — his budget projects it to be balanced in 10. And even that is unlikely. As Michael Linden, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, pointed out on Twitter, Trump’s proposed tax cut would reduce revenue by $6 trillion over 10 years, but the budget assumed revenue will grow by $2 trillion over the same period. He categorizes the assumptions needed for such optimism (that the tax cuts will offset 133 percent of their cost) with the technical economics term “crazypants.”

“What Trumponomics is and what the budget is a part of is an effort to get to sustained 3 percent growth in this economy again,” Mulvaney said. Trump on the campaign trail talked of “up to four and even five percent” growth.

This 3 percent growth assumption uses a method that the Center for American Progress’ Director of Fiscal Policy Harry Stein said on Twitter was not even internally consistent:

The tax cut plan counts what Stein calls “magic growth” once, and then the budget counts it again. “ In conclusion, Trump is lying when he says his budget balances,” Stein said.

Poverty

Trump told an audience in Iowa that if poverty did not recede, he would be disappointed in himself:

Prosperity will rise, poverty will recede, and wages will finally begin to grow and they will grow rapidly. If they don’t, I will be very disappointed in myself, I will tell you.

And when Sean Hannity asked Trump if he would be able to get 50 million Americans out of poverty, Trump said, “I would.” His solution was to provide incentives for them to work.

However, the White House’s proposed budget would make deep cuts —to the tune of $1.7 trillion — to anti-poverty programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), SSDI, and Medicaid. The SNAP cuts would be $193 billion over 10 years, or 29 percent of the total budget.

It is difficult to cut the poverty rate while cutting programs those in poverty depend on.

Education

Trump promised to solve the student loan crisis on the campaign trail, telling an audience in Ohio that “we are going to work that out.”

In a Trump administration, we will work every day to make America great again for everybody including millennials. First, we will lower the cost of college and solve the student loan crisis. It’s a crisis. Very unfair. Students should not be asked to pay more on their loans than they can afford and the debt should not be an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives and that’s what it is. We are going to work that out.

The budget released Tuesday would instead eliminate the subsidized student loan program, meaning students would pay interest while they are in school, making student debt loads even worse. This would save $1 billion. Saving $859 million would be the elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives student debt to those who make ten years of payments if they work in public service jobs. Over 400,000 people have planned their lives around this program and Trump’s budget would eliminate it.

If students want to help pay for college through work-study programs, the budget would also make that harder — cutting the program in half next year.

The Trump campaign also promised to “immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice.”

School choice advocates, however, will get a bit over $1 billion for their voucher and charter school programs. The offset is a $5 billion cut to programs that public school students primarily use, such as before- and after-school programs, and a college prep program for low-income students.

Veterans

Trump promised “to take care of our vets like you’ve never been taken care of before.”

The White House is boosting the Department of Veterans Affairs budget by $4.3 billion. However, it does reduce (or “round down”) the expected cost-of-living adjustments for veterans by an estimated $20 million next year, and $2.7 billion over the next decade. Civil service retirees would see their adjustments eliminated entirely.

Another easily-forgotten budgetary item is the decision to zero out funding for the Limb Loss Resource Center, which helps individuals with limb loss and their families, as well as the Paralysis Resource Center, which does the same for individuals with paralysis. While the VA does offer programs and care for the veterans who experience these kinds of injuries, programs like these provide support and help applying for VA benefits.

Veterans experience a disproportionate number of paralysis and amputee injuries. Through June 1, 2015, at least 1,645 veterans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have battle-injury major limb amputations.

Opioids

He promised to get rid of Rhode Island’s cocaine problem:

One of the most beautiful places on Earth. But we’re gonna straighten it out, we’re gonna bring your jobs back and we’re gonna get rid of your cocaine problems and your other problems, we’re gonna get rid of them. They are poisoning our youth.

And get addiction assistance for people in New Hampshire:

I’m now doubling down on that promise that I made to the people of New Hampshire and can guarantee you, we will not only stop the drugs from pouring in, but we will help all of those people so seriously addicted. We’ll get them assistance. We’ll make sure that they have the top treatment and get better. We got to get them better.

And expand treatment slots:

I would dramatically expand access to treatment slots and end Medicaid policies that obstruct inpatient treatment.

And expand access to narcan:

I would dramatically expand first responders and caregivers access to narcan an antidote that really it’s an antidote that treats overdoses and saves thousands of lives and supposedly is amazing.

Instead, his budget cuts $399 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in FY 2018 (page 436). It does change the initial proposed cuts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy from a total elimination to a $4 million cut.

Clean water

Trump promised an Iowa audience he would ensure clean air and water for everyone:

We will also pursue an agenda of conservation protecting our beautiful natural resources for future Americans, your family, your children, and lots of other people and we’re going to ensure clean air and clean water for all of our people.

His budget, however, eliminates the $427 million federal contribution to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which cleans up the Great Lakes, Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, and other polluted areas around the country. Not to mention the proposal to slash the EPA’s budget by a third.