Donald Trump, whose populist message and promises to help American workers propelled him to the White House, is set to issue a budget proposal on Tuesday that instead takes aim at the social safety net on which many of his supporters rely.
Rather than breaking with Washington precedent, Trump’s spending blueprint follows established conservative orthodoxy, cutting taxes on the wealthy, boosting defense spending and taking a hatchet to programs for the poor and disabled – potentially hurting many of the rural and low-income Americans that voted him into office.
The budget proposal underscores the wide gulf between campaigning and governing, even for a president who promised to rewrite the presidential rulebook.
The president’s budget plan calls for more than $1 trillion in cuts to wide-ranging social programs with millions of beneficiaries, from farm subsidies to federal student aid. That includes a $600 billion cut to Medicaid over 10 years, despite Trump’s repeated promises on the campaign trail not to cut the program. The budget also takes an ax to the federal food stamp program and Social Security Disability Insurance.
Trump also proposes some of the deepest cuts to agriculture subsidies since Ronald Reagan, squeezing out nearly $50 billion over 10 years.
Trump’s budget would drastically cut domestic programs controlled by Congress, slashing $1.7 trillion over 10 years. At the end of the decade, the U.S. would spend nearly twice the amount on military spending as other domestic programs. Domestic discretionary spending would be capped to $429 billion per year, below 2004 levels, while military spending soars to $722 billion.
The annual budget proposal – which has no chance of becoming law as proposed even though Republicans control Congress because GOP lawmakers write their own budget – serves as a starting point for negotiations and as a messaging document for the president and his party.
“There’s a certain philosophy wrapped up in the budget and that is — we are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, one of the budget’s chief architects, told reporters on Monday. “We’re not going to measure our success by how much money we spend, but by how many people we actually help.”
Mulvaney rejected accusations that Trump’s budget unfairly targets the poor, arguing instead that it amounts to a broad rethink of the country’s welfare system.
“We need folks to work. We need people to go to work. If you’re on food stamps, and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you’re on disability insurance and you’re not supposed to be, we need you to work,” he added. “There’s a dignity to work, and there’s a necessity to work.”
Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman and founding member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, has long sought dramatic cuts to Medicaid and other programs.
Mulvaney said the budget does not touch “mainline” or “core” Social Security, but it does cut Social Security’s disability insurance. The White House is also leaning on anti-fraud program programs to save billions of dollars in Medicare.
The White House plans to heavily promote its commitment to both Social Security and Medicare, though its attempt to eliminate the federal deficit while largely preserving those entitlement programs — which together make up the bulk of federal spending — will leave behind a path of destruction for other safety net programs.
Trump’s budget would tighten the belt on programs for low-income families ranging from cash assistance to the child tax credit. Nearly $200 billion in cuts will come directly from the federal food stamp program, which helps feed 44 million people each year.
Trump would also slash $72 billion by tightening the rules for programs for people with disabilities — programs that Trump’s advisers have described as riddled with fraud and abuse. A federal watchdog, however, found last year that 17 anti-fraud programs already exist.
In an administration document outlining budget talking points, the White House pitched its proposal as a way to replace “dependency with dignity of work.” The internal guidance, which POLITICO obtained early Monday, highlights an estimated $193 billion in savings by further limiting who can receive food stamps. The administration estimates $40 billion in savings over 10 years by preventing illegal immigrants from claiming the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a break to households making up to about $53,000 per year, depending on family size and filing status.
“If I had sort of a subtitle for this budget, it would be the ‘Taxpayer First’ budget,” Mulvaney said Monday. “This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes. So often in Washington I think we look only on the recipient side — how does the budget affect those who either receive or don’t receive benefits?”
Democrats, who have opposed cuts announced in drafts released earlier this year, reiterated their objections ahead of the budget’s release.
“Candidate Trump campaigned as a populist, said he wanted to help the working people, but since he has taken office he has governed like a hard-right conservative — pushing policies that help the uber wealthy at the expense of the middle class,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Sunday night.
“It’s a complete about-face,” said Seth Hanlon, a former economic adviser to Barack Obama. “It’s a betrayal of a lot of people who put their faith in him.”
But even some Republicans — both inside and outside Congress — say they’re worried about the sheer magnitude of the proposed cuts.
“I’m deeply concerned about the severity of the domestic cuts,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a long-time member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, told POLITICO on Friday.
Rogers has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s proposed cuts to programs that benefit rural regions like his home state, like the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“I think we do need healthcare reform. I think we do need welfare reform. But the kinds of reductions that he’s talking about go exactly against the states that brought [Trump] to the dance, so to speak,” said G. William Hoagland, a former long-time Republican Senate budget aide.
He added, “The argument can be made that there are certainly programs that are not achieving their goals. That doesn’t mean we should take the money away and forget about it.”
The White House says it expected a “mixed” reaction from Hill Republicans, according to a senior administration official. The defense hikes and tax cuts are sure to be popular, but many of the cuts could make more moderate Republicans skittish. “It’s more than a messaging document and it begins the negotiations,” the official said.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are expected to deliver their rebuttal to the White House’s budget proposal in mid-June, about two months behind schedule.
While the congressional document is also in many ways a wish list, it serves to set the spending levels that lawmakers must abide by the following year. The delay of that document means appropriators will face a time crunch ahead of the September deadline to fund the government or avert a shutdown.
The Trump administration is relying on more than aggressive cuts to mandatory programs to achieve its goal of eliminating the deficit within 10 years – a gold standard of budget-writing.
The White House is also making a rosy assumption of 3 percent economic growth – nearly double the 1.9 percent rate estimated by Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper – to help offset its ambitious spending plans. That includes $200 billion for new infrastructure projects as well as $19 billion for paid family leave.
The budget blueprint also assumes that Trump’s tax reform plan, which is still in the early stages of being written, will go into effect. Officials said that plan is expected to deliver a boost to the economy without adding to its bottom line, but produced no details beyond a one-page document released in April.
Trump’s proposed budgets for federal departments and agencies next year are mostly unchanged from the so-called “skinny budget” the administration released earlier this year, despite the public outcry from some disgruntled Cabinet members
A half-dozen agencies got slight boosts in their budgets, however, including those in the departments of Agriculture, Interior and Labor. The State Department, which faced some of the harshest cuts in Trump’s first budget draft, is slated for a $2.6 billion bump compared to the March numbers.
Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this story.