The border wall that he promised would be paid for by Mexico is instead being financed by billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars, and the administration’s budget request to Congress is expected to seek even more.
The president’s 2015 promise to protect Medicaid from cuts has been repeatedly ignored, as he has sought to slash some $800 billion over a decade from the health program for low-income Americans. The latest evidence of this came on Saturday, when he wrote on Twitter that the budget proposal “will not be touching your Social Security or Medicare.” He made no mention of protecting Medicaid, even though he had vowed to guard it during his first presidential campaign.
He is also seeking to gut the Affordable Care Act through the courts despite pledging to safeguard one of its key tenets: insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump vowed to deliver a major infrastructure plan, but there has been virtually no progress on this issue.
And the president’s promise to eliminate the government’s roughly $20 trillion debt within eight years has also gone unfulfilled. Instead, Trump has added almost $3 trillion to the debt in three years, and that number is only expected to balloon, according to nonpartisan estimates. Proposals to cut domestic programs have evaporated in massive year-end budget deals with Congress that have actually raised spending limits.
Trump’s first budget proposal relied on questionable math when it sought to eliminate the budget deficit after 10 years, but even that goal has slipped out of reach.
Trump has scored a string of victories in recent months, including securing a bipartisan revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement and being acquitted by Republicans in the Senate on impeachment charges. He signed a partial trade deal with China and marshaled through a massive tax-cut package in 2017.
But Monday’s budget proposal will demonstrate that a number of the president’s loftiest campaign promises from four years ago have largely been abandoned, because of political realities as well as simple budget math.
“I have no idea how he can live up to his campaign promises to reduce the deficit, not address entitlement programs, and at the same time cut taxes,” said Bill Hoagland, a Republican who served as staff director for the Senate Budget Committee. “I have not figured out how to square this circle, and neither have they.”
White House officials declined to comment for this article, but the president has sought to seize on a range of accomplishments as affirmation that his governing style is delivering results for Americans. White House officials have argued that the strong economy is lifting wages for workers across the income distribution, pointing to low unemployment and relatively steady growth.
“We are advancing with unbridled optimism and lifting high our citizens of every race, color, religion and creed,” the president said in his State of the Union address. “The years of economic decay are over.”
As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump pledged time and again that Mexico would pay for his border wall.
It was a promise he’s also sporadically made as president, at times suggesting that the renegotiated North American trade deal would somehow finance the barrier’s construction, though without explaining how. The Mexican government has rejected the notion of playing any role in paying for the wall and Trump’s budgets have not proposed pulling the money from Mexico. Instead, U.S. taxpayers are spending upward of $20 billion for the border wall, between money appropriated by Congress and funds Trump has taken from the Pentagon budget by declaring a national emergency at the border.
That trend is expected to continue in the budget due out Monday.
On infrastructure, Trump has repeatedly made promises of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, but his last budget proposed only a $200 billion federal investment toward that goal while cutting infrastructure spending in other areas. He has flirted with making an infrastructure deal with Democrats, only to have those efforts fizzle. The notion of a White House “Infrastructure Week” has become a standing joke on Capitol Hill. And despite a renewed promise in the State of the Union address, and a new round of talks involving Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, congressional Democrats have little hope that an infrastructure deal will actually materialize.
“I hope this budget’s different, and in particular, I would hope that it is different in the infrastructure area where the president’s talked such a good game,” said Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. “But so far, we’ve seen very little.”
Presidential budgets are an annual tradition that spell out the White House’s vision for the government. Congress often casts many of the ideas aside, but the documents are supposed to serve as the opening offer for budget negotiations later in the year. But even more so than under prior administrations, Trump’s budget proposals have been largely rejected by lawmakers who’ve agreed on a bipartisan basis to restore and even increase spending for agencies and programs that the administration has tried to cut, including health and education programs and foreign aid.
Trump in the past few years has sought to backpedal on some of the proposed budget cuts, facing blowback after seeking to cut funding in states central to his reelection campaign, such as Michigan.
That has led to some dejection among career officials at agencies and within the White House Office of Management and Budget, who are forced to devote enormous time and attention to developing a budget document they know Congress will largely reject, according to several people with knowledge of internal administration dynamics who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe them.
In prior years, Trump’s budgets have reflected the irreconcilable contradictions of his campaign promises in part by relying on overly rosy economic forecasts and glossing over how he would achieve big cuts.
In 2017, Trump’s budget predicted that economic growth would surge to an annual rate of 3 percent by 2021 and stay at that healthy rate indefinitely. This goal has proved elusive. The economy grew 2.9 percent in 2018 but slowed to 2.3 percent in 2019, and is projected to slow even more this year. Relying on rosy economic estimates in the budget plans allows the White House to assume that prospering families and companies will generate high levels of tax revenue as a way to offset the widening deficit. Instead, the deficit estimates have proved faulty.
Trump’s budgets have also proposed enormous cuts to domestic spending programs as a way to try to bring the deficit down. But nondefense domestic spending, aside from what are considered mandatory programs, makes up just a sliver of the overall $4.6 trillion federal budget. Mandatory programs, including the domestic programs Medicare and Social Security, make up more than 60 percent of federal spending. And since Trump has promised repeatedly to wall off Medicare and Social Security from cuts, while also increasing the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security budgets, he has fewer agencies available for cuts if he wants to seek reductions.
Rep. Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, said the deficit cannot be addressed until Congress and the administration take on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. But he noted that Trump has promised to protect those programs, “and I will certainly respect that.”
“So I think right now, this year, is probably not the year to deal with the mandatory side of the equation,” Fleischmann said. “But perhaps that’s something that President Trump will look at with the Congress in his second term.”
The president and his aides have also said the GOP tax cut of 2017 would pay for itself, meaning that it would create so much new tax revenue because of growth that there will not be an impact on the deficit. This prediction has not come true, critics say. The Congressional Budget Office recently said that annual deficits will top $1 trillion in 2020 for the first time since 2012 and that the tax cuts have led to a reduction in new revenue.
Smaller promises have also proved unworkable. As a presidential candidate, Trump repeatedly promised to save the federal government $300 billion a year by allowing the United States to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, saying “on Day One we solve” that issue. Trump later backed off his promise to have Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices, although nonpartisan experts had dismissed the claim that $300 billion could be saved annually.
And the impeachment drama has also forced the administration to shift course. Past attempts to cut a State Department foreign aid program for Ukraine that was at the center of the impeachment inquiry are being abandoned this year, although the administration is likely to pursue cuts to other State Department programs, in line with the president’s well-known distaste for foreign aid.
Although Trump has talked publicly about wanting to cut spending, he has also signaled an indifference toward the federal budget. During the Obama administration, the White House budget proposal was typically released at a high-profile news conference featuring members of the Cabinet and top aides. Trump administration officials have done less to market and tout their budget document. Trump rarely speaks of it.
Leaked audio from a dinner the president attended in January with donors at Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, captured the president brushing aside those who are critical of rising defense and federal spending as part of the growing national debt. “Who the hell cares about the budget? We’re going to have a country,” the president said.