You may remember that when he ran for president in 2016, Donald Trump said a lot of unusual things, among which were regular pledges that unlike his Republican primary opponents and others in his party, he’d protect the safety net. In the speech announcing his candidacy, he said, “Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it.”
Trump liked to emphasize how this position distinguished him. “I’m not going to cut Social Security, like every other Republican, and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” he said in an interview not long before that announcement. His campaign liked this promise so much that it later published it on its website. In fact, as early as 2011, when Trump was turning himself into a Republican political celebrity with Roger Ailes’s help with a regular gig on “Fox & Friends,” he attacked then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for the congressman’s plan to cut entitlements, calling it an electoral “death wish.”
Yet the budget that the Trump administration just released contains enormous cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, not to mention domestic programs. In a word, it is positively savage. Some of the highlights:
- The Trump budget would cut about $845 billion from Medicare over 10 years
- It cuts $241 billion from Medicaid
- It would push Medicaid toward block grants which cap the amount each state would receive, which when the money runs out would result in pared-back benefits, recipients being tossed off the program or both
- It would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which would mean millions would lose their health coverage
- It would cut $25 billion from Social Security
- It would impose work requirements on recipients of food stamps, Medicaid and housing assistance, forcing them to navigate a bureaucratic maze or lose their benefits
- It would cut $220 billion from food stamps
- It would cut $1.1 trillion from domestic discretionary programs, which do not include Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security
- It would cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 16 percent and the Education Department by 12 percent
- It would cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent
In short, it’s Ryan’s dream come true.
Whenever Trump talked about protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, any sane person could tell he didn’t believe it out of some personal conviction about our mutual obligations to one another. It was a purely political calculation, and a smart one at that. Republicans’ greatest political problem is the widespread perception that they only care about the welfare of the rich, so Trump presented himself as a populist who cared about the common folk and would advocate for them.
As president, he has done nothing of the sort, of course. In fact, there may be no president in modern history who has worked so hard for those at the top, combining tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations with an agenda of ruthless regulatory rollback whose targets are any regulations that protect consumers, workers or people who enjoy breathing air and drinking water. If anything, since becoming president, Trump has proved that he’s a different kind of Republican only in ways that are damaging — going even further than most Republicans are willing to go on immigration and destructively upending our trade relationships, while going all in with the very worst aspects of the Republican philosophy of government on taxes and spending.
What makes this all the remarkable, however, is that it comes right after Republicans lost control of the House, in a referendum on all the ways in which Trump has implemented his own version of Republican rule.
Consider: The midterm elections were all about Trump’s immigration agenda, the Trump/GOP effort to repeal Obamacare and the massive GOP tax giveaway to corporations that Trump signed. And Democrats won the House in their largest victory since the Watergate era.
This is the first Trump budget that has come after that public verdict on Trump/GOP rule. Yet on one front after another, it blithely ignores that verdict.
Trump is seeking an additional $8.6 billion for his border wall — after making the election all about the border (he even sent in the military as a campaign prop) and after losing a government shutdown battle over this same topic, one in which majorities firmly sided with Democrats.
Trump is seeking to block-grant Medicaid, impose work requirements and zero out the Medicaid expansion — after an election in which Democrats routed Republicans in districts across the country by campaigning on a vow to protect Obamacare, which of course includes an open-ended expansion of Medicaid in states that have opted in.
And the Trump budget would make the tax cuts he signed permanent — after Republicans suffered a dramatic repudiation at the polls, despite their effort to sell those tax cuts as their primary accomplishment of the Trump era. Those tax cuts, of course, have led to an explosion of the deficit, repudiating GOP economic theory. Yet this budget only doubles down on that theory and the broader set of priorities embedded in it, deeply cutting spending to help fund tax cuts and his border wall, even as his budget would produce trillion-dollar deficits in coming years.
“His budget doesn’t adapt to new political realities,” Joel Friedman, vice president for federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told us. “It adheres to the same structure that we’ve seen from congressional Republican budgets dating back to Paul Ryan — tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts in programs that provide core public services and cuts to the safety net that are assisting the most vulnerable.”
This budget appears to enshrine the notion that the 2018 elections never happened. Which may be exactly the point.