Trump budget calls for deep cuts to social safety net

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WASHINGTON: The White House delivered to Congress Tuesday a proposed 2018 budget that would deeply cut programs for the poor and rural America, as well as diplomacy and foreign aid, while boosting defense and border security.

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The plan claims it would help balance the budget within 10 years — in large part by rolling back benefits that have helped tens of millions of lower-income people, including many of those who helped send Donald Trump to the White House.

The plan, a reported $4.1 trillion for 2018, is certain to undergo major changes on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers rarely approve a president’s budget wish list in its original form.

Overall, government spending would be cut by $3.6 trillion over 10 years — with anti-poverty programs like Medicaid — which provides health insurance to low-income families — and food stamps bearing the brunt of the cutbacks.

It does propose a six-week family leave program for new parents, costing about $20 billion over 10 years — a project championed by Trump’s daughter and key aide Ivanka.

“You have to have compassion for folks receiving federal funds, but you also need compassion for folks paying it,” said White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney while briefing reporters.

The State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency would each see their budgets cut by about a third, while defense spending would increase by more than $50 billion in 2018, or around 10 percent above 2017 levels.

The proposal also adds $2.6 billion for border security and immigration enforcement — including $1.6 billion for building a wall on the US-Mexico border, one of Trump’s controversial campaign promises.

Mulvaney stressed that Trump’s budget request reflected an effort to “bring some fiscal discipline” to federal spending.

He defended the budget against charges it drastically cuts funding for important safety net programs like Medicaid, as well as tightening eligibility for disability insurance, a move set to save more than $70 billion over 10 years.

But the blueprint reflects the administration’s plan to “reform Medicaid” to the tune of $610 billion in savings over a decade.

Democrats have warned that an additional $800 billion would be cut from federal funding of Medicaid with passage of the controversial Republican health care bill, which seeks to replace Barack Obama’s health reforms.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi branded the budget “a killer for the American people — literally a killer.”

Republicans recognize it as a presidential wish list, and few embraced it with open arms. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to distance himself from the budget.

“We’ll be taking into account what the president’s recommending, but it will not be determinative in every respect,” he told reporters.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was more blunt, calling it “definitely dead on arrival.”

The White House defended the savings, with Mulvaney insisting “we’re not kicking anybody off of any program who really needs it.”

“We have plenty of money in this country to take care of the people who need help, and we will do that. We don’t have enough money to take care of everybody who doesn’t need help.”

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Medicaid cuts the White House is counting on through passage of the health bill would end such benefits for 10 million people, and some Republicans have expressed unease about such changes.

The budget would give states flexibility to impose work requirements for those in certain anti-poverty programs. For example, states would be entitled to toughen Medicaid rules on able-bodied Americans who do not have children.

Trump’s budget relies on an optimistic projection of 3.0 percent economic growth in coming years, and assumes that the Trump tax overhaul, still in its infancy, will be deficit-neutral, Mulvaney said.

That assumption was savaged by economic experts.

Trump “relies on incredibly rosy economic growth estimates that we’ve shown are highly unlikely to occur,” the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget warned.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it “fantasy math.”

The budget leaves Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare untouched, fulfilling a long-held campaign pledge. But it appears to break Trump’s promise not to cut Medicaid.

Critics are assailing the plan for hurting many of those who backed Trump in 2016: rural working-poor Americans.

“It’s just brutal — to the very people that Donald campaigned with, and who voted for him,” Schumer said.

Slashing food stamps, health benefits and some $38 billion in farm subsidies will hit rural communities particularly hard, Democrats said. AFP

AFP/CC

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