The Trump administration is calling its fiscal 2018 budget proposal the “Taxpayer First” plan — meaning that its priority is to take care of those who pay their taxes.
That’s in keeping with President Trump’s repeated promises, during the campaign and in his inaugural speech, that this administration would be directly guided by the people’s priorities.
But does it really match voters’ priorities? That’s not what we find in surveys recently conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC) and other organizations. Let’s take a look at how.
Should the U.S. cut aid for the needy?
The president’s budget sharply cuts spending on poverty programs, especially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, more commonly know as food stamps, and to Medicaid. Many observers often assume such programs are unpopular with taxpayers because they benefit a minority of Americans, at the expense of the majority.
But our research suggests that Americans do not want to cut food stamps. When PPC told respondents the average SNAP benefit for an average recipient living alone, 81 percent (including 66 percent of Republicans) proposed raising the benefit; most raised it by 43 percent. More broadly, in a Pew Research Center poll in April only 21 percent favored cuts to economic assistance to needy people.
Similarly, the Trump budget eliminates the funding for the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. However, 64 percent of our respondents favor Medicaid expansion for their state. That includes 62 percent of respondents in the states that have not accepted it. That varied by party; only 43 percent of Republicans supported the Medicaid expansion.
Similarly, a Kaiser Foundation poll in April found that only 12 percent favored cutting spending on Medicaid.
Do Americans want to cut domestic spending on bread-and-butter issues?
Proposed spending levels in the Trump discretionary budget are equally out of step with the public. PPC presented a large sample of voters the authorized discretionary spending levels for 2017 and allowed them to make their own budget. Majorities did concur with Trump’s proposed cuts to subsidies to agricultural corporations. However, they did not echo his cuts to education, medical research, public housing, or the size of his cuts to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). And while Trump wants deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, only minorities of respondents cut pollution control.
In the more standard poll by Pew, respondents opposed cuts to health care, scientific research, environmental protection and economic assistance to needy people around the world — all of which the Trump budget calls for.
The Kaiser poll mentioned above found majority support for increasing spending on medical research and children’s health care, which Trump would cut. And two-thirds oppose cuts to health-care programs in developing countries, which Trump’s budget calls for.
Do Americans want to increase or cut military spending?
In contrast to Trump’s $54 billion increase to military spending, in the PPC budget survey, 67 percent cut military spending, with a majority cutting it by $39 billion. While a majority favors trimming homeland security by $2 billion, Trump proposes increasing it.
Which taxes should go up or down?
Perhaps most striking is the gap between Trump and the U.S. public on revenues. In the PPC budget survey, large bipartisan majorities do repeal the “carried interest” provision that gives investment fund managers a lower tax rate than those who make their money another way. So does Trump.
But Trump proposes eliminating the estate (or inheritance) tax and gives a lower tax rate to those who are owners of pass-through companies like S corporations — corporations that elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions and credits on to their shareholders for federal tax purposes, according to the IRS). More than 60 percent of Americans — in both parties — reject both of those proposals. And Trump calls for reducing corporate taxes and taxes on capital gains and dividends. By contrast, a majority of Americans favor modest increases, although that’s not true among Republicans.
Trump calls for cuts to the income-tax rate for higher earners. But nearly two-thirds of voters — including a slight majority of Republicans — favor at least a 5 percent increase in the effective tax rate for incomes over $200,000.
Should government give the people what they want?
Most Americans agree that public opinion is not the only factor that should guide the budgeting process. However, most think it should have much more influence than it does. Research shows that most Americans believe that special interests, not public priorities, drive public policy — and that that’s a major reason for dissatisfaction with government in general and Congress in particular.
In fact, it was a major reason Trump was elected, promising to put the voters “in charge.” His inaugural budget, however, doesn’t appear to be responsive to public opinion.
Steven Kull, a political psychologist, is director of the Program for Public Consultation at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, and president of Voice Of the People, an organization that seeks to give the people greater voice in government.