The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s budget reveals a tremendous fraud

President Trump departs from the White House on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

For once, President Trump spoke the truth.

“We’re doing a lot of things that are good, including waste and fraud,” he said Monday, as his administration released its proposed budget. “Tremendous waste and tremendous fraud.”

No question about it! Trump’s budget is a tremendous fraud — and it lays tremendous waste to his promises.

Remember when he said he would eliminate the federal debt, or at least halve it, during his presidency? His new budget proposes to add another $3.4 trillion by 2024 to the debt on top of the $3 trillion Trump has already added, by piling on $1-trillion-a-year budget deficits during a peacetime expansion. Under Trump’s latest plans, the debt would keep mushrooming until at least 2035 — by his administration’s own rosy projections.

President Trump's proposed $4.8 trillion election-year budget would slash major safety net programs, such as Medicaid. (Video: Reuters)

Recall his repeated promises not to “touch” Social Security and Medicare? Even as the elderly population swells, his budget calls for removing half a trillion dollars of funding from the Medicare program over 10 years, including $135 billion from Medicare prescription drugs, and tens of billions from the Social Security program.

In 2015, he promised not to touch Medicaid, either. Now he wants to cut it by $920 billion.

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He was going to give Americans health care “much better” than Obamacare. But he has proposed no such thing and now his budget calls for cutting spending on the program by $844 billion.

Oh, and remember his vows that his tax cuts would grow the economy by 4 percent, 5 percent or even 6 percent? Last year it grew at 2.3 percent, and his new budget, even with the rosiest of assumptions, projects 2.8 percent for this year. Yet the budget would also devote another $1.4 trillion to extending those tax cuts, primarily for the rich.

A tremendous fraud, indeed.

The thankless task of defending Trump’s new budget and the broken promises contained therein fell to Russell Vought, Trump’s acting budget director. He’s been in this “acting” position for more than a year, and by now he’s become quite a skilled comedic actor.

“Promises made, promises kept,” he claimed cheerfully in his opening statement.

Umm, so what about the half-trillion in cuts to Medicare?

Vought, gripping the lectern tightly in the White House briefing room, explained that the administration isn’t cutting the program at all. It merely proposes to “remove” certain parts of the program and, once these pieces are no longer called “Medicare,” it would “moderate their growth” with reforms.

So, asked CNN’s John Harwood, “as long as spending on Medicare or Social Security is higher than the previous year, the program has not been cut?” (This means that with swelling enrollment in the programs and rising health-care costs, the amount spent per beneficiary could drop sharply without it technically being called a cut.)

“That’s certainly one aspect of it,” admitted Vought.

Somebody else asked for a total figure of all cuts — er, moderations of growth — to Medicare and Social Security. Vought demurred.

Bloomberg Government reporter Cheryl Bolen asked about a line in Trump’s letter to Congress introducing the new budget in which he said the government “abused its authority to go after business.”

“Who? Who? Who’s saying that?” a puzzled Vought replied. “Don’t have it in front of me.”

Maybe this is why the White House chose to have Vought’s briefing “off-camera.”

Yamiche Alcindor of PBS asked about the $2 trillion in proposed cuts to entitlement programs. “We do not believe these are cuts,” Vought replied. “We believe these are good-government reforms.”

The man needed a lifeline. His flack jumped on the stage and announced, “We’ll take one last question” — and then called on a reporter from the Trump-friendly New York Post who hadn’t been raising his hand.

Happily, Trump’s budget is going nowhere in Congress, in large part because Democrats control the House and have the votes to thwart certain actions in the Senate. But, as Vought made clear, this budget is a clear articulation of what Trump would do if given the chance. Democrats should be shouting this warning from the mountaintops. Instead, they’re bickering over who has the purest form of Medicare-for-all.

The Democrats’ carping over small differences seems particularly absurd as the president proposes to cut $170 billion from student loan forgiveness, $181 billion from food stamps and a quarter of the EPA’s budget, along with Health and Human Services in the midst of a global health panic. (“The coronavirus is not going to have a ripple effect,” Vought blithely forecast.)

Trump promised to balance the budget, retire the debt, protect and enhance entitlements, and grow the economy at a rate far beyond anything we’ve seen. But he did none of that, and now he asks: “Who the hell cares about the budget?”

The fraud is in the open.

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Read more:

Joe Grogan: Americans have failed people with mental illness. Trump’s new budget will change that.

Greg Sargent: Trump just saddled himself with a major campaign liability

The Post’s View: Trump and the GOP are fueling the explosion of our national debt

Seema Verma: No, the Trump administration is not cutting Medicaid

Paul Waldman: Can we stop worrying about the deficit now?