For months, pundits and political advisers have tried to figure out what “Trumponomics” really stands for. Even President Trump himself struggled to characterize it, saying, “It really has to do with self-respect as a nation.”
Now that we have the president’s budget in hand, we have a more definitive answer: Trumponomics — like Ryanonomics — is based on the principle that living in poverty doesn’t suck quite enough. That is, more people would be motivated to become rich if only being poor weren’t so much fun.
Presidential budgets should be read as statements of political ideology, not determinations for what will ultimately become law. (Congress, after all, does the appropriating.) In this case, the political ideology is reflected in major cuts to anti-poverty programs and the social safety net, all in the name of not “discourag[ing] able-bodied adults from working.” And so, with the “compassionate” goal of making the poor a little less comfortable and a little more motivated, this budget savages nearly every anti-poverty program you can imagine.
“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs,” said Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, describing massive safety-net program cuts that would not “help” people “get off” safety net programs so much as eject them violently and immediately, regardless of where they land.
Under the proposed budget, Medicaid loses $610 billion over the next decade, which the administration suggests is on top of the $839 billion expected to be cut from Medicaid by the American Health Care Act. That means Medicaid funding would be cut nearly in half by 2028.
The budget not only slashes funding for food stamps by $191 billion over the next decade — that is, by more than a quarter — but also proposes charging retailers a new fee if they want to accept food stamps from customers. Seems like a good way to discourage grocers from even participating in the program, so food stamp recipients’ lives can get a little less convenient.
Trump proposes to completely eliminate funding for lots of other programs. These include before- and after-school programs for poor students; the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps poor people pay for heat; Community Development Block Grants (which help fund Meals on Wheels, homeless services, blight removal and other initiatives); and the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income families increase the energy efficiency of their homes.
The administration would hobble if not zero out lots of other programs too, such as rental assistance programs that help 4.5 million very low-income, disabled and elderly Americans afford housing, in order to “encourage work and self-sufficiency.”
Note that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has similarly argued that subsidized housing should not provide “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’ ” Apparently one way to achieve this goal is to throw people out of affordable housing altogether.
Perversely, this budget also includes lots of cuts to job-training and other programs that help people acquire human capital and improve their employment prospects — again, in the name of encouraging people to become self-sufficient and find jobs on their own.
Funding for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act job training and employment service programs, for example, would fall 39 percent next year. The federal work-study program gets slashed in half. So much for the Republican fetishization of working one’s way through college.
Or compassionate conservatism, for that matter.