Top officials in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet are heading to Capitol Hill to defend his plans to cut domestic programs and parry Democratic criticism of his tax proposals.
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney appears Wednesday before the House Budget panel while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will testify at the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. The budget contains virtually no further detail on taxes beyond the cuts the administration proposed in a one-page outline last month.
Trump on Tuesday released a 10-year budget plan containing jarring, politically unrealistic cuts to the social safety net and a broad swath of domestic programs.
The plan, Trump’s first as president, combines $4.1 trillion for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year with a promise to bring the budget back into balance in 10 years, relying on aggressive spending cuts, a surge in economic growth — and a $2 trillion-plus accounting gimmick.
Trump’s budget is simply a proposal. There’s little appetite among Capitol Hill Republicans for a genuine effort to balance the budget; GOP lawmakers this year are instead pressing to rewrite the tax code and forge a spending deal with Democrats that would permit higher military spending.
Trump’s budget holds true to his campaign pledge to leave Medicare and Social Security pension benefits alone and contains spending increases for the military and veterans, but it treats most of the rest of the government as fair game. It foresees an overhaul of the tax code, which analysts say could direct most of its benefits to upper-income earners.
Trump won support from GOP leaders.
“Here’s what I’m happy about. We finally have a president who’s willing to actually even balance the budget,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “At least we now have common objectives. Grow the economy, balance the budget.”
Many rank-and-file Republicans recoiled from the cuts, however, which would squeeze foreign aid and domestic programs funded annually by Congress by about 10 percent next year and $1.4 trillion over the coming decade.
Mulvaney, a former tea party congressman, is the driving force behind the Trump budget plan, winning the president’s approval for big cuts to benefit programs whose budgets are essentially on autopilot.
Food stamp cuts would drive millions from the program, while a wave of Medicaid cuts — on top of more than $800 billion in the House-passed health care bill — could deny nursing home care to millions of elderly poor people. It would also force some people on Social Security’s disability program back into the workforce.
Other cuts in Trump’s budget include $63 billion in cuts to pension benefits for federal workers by eliminating cost-of-living adjustments for most workers and requiring employees to make higher contributions. In agriculture, the proposed budget would limit subsidies to farmers, including for purchasing crop insurance, a move already attacked by farm state lawmakers.
The budget does feature a handful of domestic initiatives, including a six-week paid parental leave program championed by Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, that would be designed and financed by the states through cuts to unemployment insurance. Some $200 billion in federal infrastructure investments are promised to leverage another $800 billion in private investment, though the idea has yet to get much traction.
Trump’s balanced-budget goal depends not only on the growth projections that most economists view as overly optimistic but also a variety of accounting gimmicks, including an almost $600 billion peace dividend from winding down overseas military operations and “double counting” $2.1 trillion in revenues from economic growth — using them to both pay for tax cuts and bring down the deficit.
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