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Opinion Trump learned nothing from the ‘skinny budget’ fiasco

The Trump administration is expected to introduce its 2018 budget proposal on May 23, which will likely include major cuts to programs for low-income Americans. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump’s so-called “skinny budget” in March envisioned mammoth cuts to domestic programs, billions in funding for a wall that not even border-state Republicans support and only a modest increase in defense spending. The bill was proclaimed dead on arrival. Republicans and Democrats negotiated their own deal, one seen as very lopsided in favor of the Democrats. Lesson learned?

Nope. Trump sends up today a 2018 budget that is more draconian and unrealistic than the last effort. The Post reports:

President Trump on Tuesday will propose cutting federal spending by $3.6 trillion over 10 years, a historic budget contraction that would severely ratchet back spending across dozens of programs and could completely reshape government assistance to the poor.
The White House’s $4.094 trillion budget request for fiscal 2018 calls for cuts that hit Medicaid, food assistance and other anti-poverty programs. It would cut funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides benefits to the poor, by roughly 20 percent next year.
All told, the budget would ­reduce spending on safety-net programs by more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

Trump apparently is intent on repudiating his populist vision and handing Democrats powerful evidence that he is indifferent to the poor and, in the case of Medicaid cuts, breaking key campaign promises — just as every other politician has done.

Democrats were distressed but could barely contain their amazement that Trump would back a budget this easily portrayed as a coldhearted attack on the most vulnerable Americans. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) went to the floor on Monday to denounce the president’s budget, echoing classic Democratic themes. “The president told the American people he would help create jobs and provide greater economic security for families. This budget does exactly the opposite. It’s not a jobs budget. It’s not an economic security agenda,” Schumer said. “It’s a budget that takes a meat cleaver to the middle class by gutting the programs that help them the most, including many that help create jobs and power the economy: Transportation is cut, education is cut, programs that promote scientific and medical research are cut, programs that protect clean air and clean water are cut. All of these are favored — these programs are favored by a vast majority of my Republican friends across the aisle, but the president’s budget is an outlier — way out there.” He reminded his colleagues that Medicaid covers “many Americans who need help: those suffering from opioid and heroin addiction, people in nursing homes and their families who care for them, the elderly, the disabled, and children. … Listen to this, Mr. President and my colleagues: Medicaid helps 1.75 million veterans (1 in 10). It provides services for Americans struggling with opioid addiction, a problem that affects so many.” He argued, “So if the reporting is accurate, the cuts to Medicaid in the president’s budget carries a staggering human cost.”

What would possess Trump to disregard his experience of just a couple of months ago and send up a budget that his own party will repudiate? Why, when he is offering enormous tax cuts for the very rich (both in the American Health Care Act and in his tax plan outline), would he chop away at the safety net, as if he was bent on a huge transfer of wealth from poorer to richer Americans?

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One explanation is that Trump, never big on details, does not much care about the budget. He has left it to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a former Freedom Caucus member who came up with a scheme that bears no resemblance to the needs of the country or the politics of the moment. Another explanation is that Trump’s populism was a con job from the get-go, a rhetorical device to get working-class Americans’ votes so that he could pass enormous tax cuts for his friends and dismantle the welfare state.

Whichever explanation you favor (and the two are not mutually exclusive), Trump is destroying his and his party’s attempt to redraw the political landscape. Democrats have not made much progress in devising their own agenda and message, but Trump is handing them both on a silver platter. In short, Democrats will be all too happy to tell voters: The president has taken working and middle-class Americans for a ride, and it will be up to Democrats to look after the real interests of Trump voters.