President Trump on Sunday evening called for more spending on health care and said his plan to overhaul the tax code “is actually ahead of schedule” — two statements that are at odds with the budget proposal he unveiled just last week.
The statements came as part of a blizzard of Twitter posts the president made after he returned from his first foreign trip.
While he was gone, Trump’s top advisers rolled out his first comprehensive budget plan. They spent days explaining the plan to the media and to Congress, but Trump did not weigh in last week. This was unusual, as the budgets submitted by presidents in their first year in office tend to represent the most complete portrait of their agenda and legislative priorities.
Trump’s budget plan, assembled by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, called for cuts of between $800 billion and $1.4 trillion in future spending on Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income Americans. It also called for cuts in future spending on a health-care program for low-income children. It did not propose new health-care spending, as Trump alluded to in one of his Twitter posts Sunday evening.
In the Twitter post, Trump does not differentiate whether the new “dollars” should be added to private health programs or public-health programs. His budget did not propose significant changes or cuts to Medicare, the large, government-run health-care program for Americans who are older than 65. During the campaign, Trump promised not to pursue cuts to Medicare or Medicaid if he became president.
By calling for more health spending in a Twitter post, Trump could be distancing himself from the substantial blowback that his budget proposal received. Many Democrats expressed outrage at the proposed cuts to Medicaid, and several Republicans said they planned to ignore his call for cuts to the health plan for children from low-income homes, known by the acronym CHIP.
Trump's Twitter post about his tax plan being ahead of schedule comes just days after Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gave much different descriptions of the plan to Congress. Trump has offered a one-page blueprint for how he wants an overhaul of the tax code to look. He wants a major cut in tax rates and a simplification of the system.
Mnuchin, Trump and Vice President Pence have described their tax agenda as a huge tax cut, but Mulvaney has said the lower tax rates would be offset by eliminating tax breaks and deductions. This differentiation suggests they still have major work to do — and issues to settle — before they can try to cut a deal with lawmakers. They also have not decided whether they want to pursue a long-term overhaul of the tax code or a temporary cut.
Trump's tweet may overstate what he has achieved in other ways, too. White House officials were not prepared to make any tax outline public until he prodded them to do so as he neared his 100th day in office. What’s more, the plan wasn’t formally “submitted” to Congress. It was released on a single sheet of paper and included only a handful of numbers, leaving lawmakers and congressional aides to question in which direction the White House wanted the tax plan to go.
Mnuchin had set an initial goal of completing an overhaul of the tax code by August, but the White House has backed away from that time frame. Most recently, Trump’s top advisers have said they want the changes to pass Congress sometime in 2017, while some congressional Republicans have said a more realistic timetable would shoot for an agreement by sometime next year.
Still, the White House has not proposed a comprehensive tax plan, and Trump did not include any new details of a tax overhaul in last week’s budget proposal. The House and Senate have also not completed a tax plan, or even proposed one that has passed through committee.
Trump’s top advisers are meeting frequently with lawmakers about ways to overhaul the tax code, however, and it seems to be one area where the White House is most engaged with lawmakers from both parties. Democrats have publicly chided the Trump administration for the scant details it has offered on tax changes, but they have agreed to meet with Mnuchin and others behind closed doors to hear their thoughts.
Trump has said there are many different paths for changing the tax code. He could try to do it with only GOP support, or he could try to lure Democrats into a bargain by pairing changes with major spending on infrastructure projects.