While US President Donald Trump was dancing and swinging swords with his fellow billionaires in Saudi Arabia, his budget director and minions were back in Washington swinging far more dangerous swords, slashing the social safety net of millions of poor, elderly, disabled, hungry and disadvantaged Americans.
It is no coincidence that his draconian budget was released while Trump was gobbling up the headlines on his first foreign trip, where he’d be hobnobbing with kings and princes, presidents, prime ministers and a pope. There was a lot to run away from in that budget.
Trump is a former Democrat who ran as a populist and is governing like a Tea Party conservative. Many of the victims of his budget are his election base in the rural south, the Bible belt and among veterans.
Money that would have gone for food stamps, Meals on Wheels and school lunch programs, or for medical and scientific research or education, for environmental protection and farm subsidies, for student federal aid and to caring for veterans, will be going to build Trump’s cockamamie wall if he gets his way and even more than that for huge tax cuts that will benefit only the very rich – like Trump and his family.
Budget director Mick Mulvaney called it a “taxpayer first” budget that puts money back in the pockets of taxpayers, which sounds good until you look at where he is taking it from. A more accurate description would be a Reverse Robin Hood budget that takes money from the poor, the middle classes, the neediest in society and uses it to cut the taxes of the Trumps and their mega-wealthy friends.
If there is any good news it is that this budget is so cruel and unrealistic that many Republicans are already declaring it dead on arrival.
Mulvaney is a former Tea Party congressman from South Carolina and co-founder of the far-right Freedom Caucus. A small-government advocate, his goal is to slash the safety net by starving the Treasury and strangling the federal government. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), head of the Freedom Caucus, called it “the most conservative budget we had under Republican or Democratic administrations in decades.”
Trump promised during the campaign “there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” but his very first budget proposal did just that. Social Security Disability Income and Supplemental Security Income will get deep cuts under this budget. Mulvaney has long advocated overhauling and privatizing parts or all of both Social Security and Medicare. President George W. Bush tried to push privatization in 2005 but ran into stiff bipartisan opposition and dropped it.
Trump wants to cut $800 billion over the next 10 years from Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care to low-income Americans, plus another $192 million from nutritional assistance, $72b. from disability benefits and $272m. from welfare programs.
The Congressional Budget Office predicts that 14 million Americans will lose their coverage as a result. Nearly half of all Medicaid beneficiaries, 46%, are children.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said Medicaid helps one in 10 veterans, about 1.75 million Americans.
One reason it was released while the president was overseas is that it is a complex document that Trump probably doesn’t understand and certainly can’t discuss in detail if asked at a press conference or meeting with members of Congress. It is based on some delusional assumptions, most notably that massive tax cuts for the wealthiest would spur unprecedented growth and thus bring in billions in new revenue.
The State Department comes in for cuts so deep that Trump’s secretary of defense warned against it last year when he was head of US Central Command. Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis told Congress, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” A similar message was sent to the White House by hundreds of business leaders and retired former ranking military officers.
Foreign aid is barely one percent of the federal budget and shrinking fast under Trump’s plan. Israel and Egypt are expected to be protected against cuts, at least initially; the two comprise more than half of all US foreign military assistance globally.
This budget calls for switching military aid from grants to loans. It is that practice that put Israel and many other allies so deep in debt until it was reversed by the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Israel was using much of its foreign aid to service old debts incurred in prior wars, hobbling its ability to prepare for future contingencies. We don’t do our friends any favors or help them defend themselves by driving them deeper into debt and destabilizing their economies.
Moreover, nearly all foreign military assistance is spent in the United States, which creates jobs here and protects friends abroad.
Despite all the slashing of the social safety net, Trump’s budget does find room for adding $25b. a year for his daughter Ivanka’s pet project: six weeks of paid family leave for new parents.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) called much of the Trump budget “draconian, careless and counterproductive,” and predicted the foreign aid cuts “will not stand,” according to CNN. “We can’t afford to dismantle” our diplomatic programs, he said.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) called Trump’s budget “a collection of broken promises to the American people” that “would leave Americans poorer, sicker, less educated and less able to achieve a decent standard of living.”
The American Jewish community, with extensive social service programs that depend to a great deal on degree on government funding, and many needy elderly could face a genuine human service crisis, which is why most major Jewish groups will strongly oppose the radical Trump budget proposal.
Trump’s message to poor and black voters last year was “what have you got to lose?” by voting for him. Millions are about to find out as he swings his budget sword. And so will many in our own community.