Bizarre budget afterthought: Why is Team Trump unveiling his terrible budget while the president is overseas?

While the president exhausts himself on a brief overseas trip, his team drops the worst budget proposal ever

By Heather Digby Parton

Published May 22, 2017 8:05AM (EDT)

President Donald Trump walks down the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Md., Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Trump went to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., where he gave the commencement address. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump walks down the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Md., Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Trump went to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., where he gave the commencement address. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Donald Trump is exhausted. At least that's what an aide told the press as an explanation for why he used the word "Islamic" rather than "Islamist" in his big speech in Saudi Arabia and ended up offending his hosts. After the speech, Trump canceled his appearance at the Tweeps Forum and had his daughter fill in for him.

He did manage to handle a weird glowing orb and swayed along to a traditional all-male sword dance along with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House adviser Steve Bannon on the first night of his trip but none of that looked very arduous. And the team brought home a major arms deal, with the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner arranging a nice discount for the wealthy Saudi government, which will undoubtedly give the war in Yemen a big boost. But the administration didn't come away empty-handed by any means. The Ivanka Foundation apparently scored a gift from gulf sources, which flies in the face of what Donald Trump once had to say about the Clinton Foundation:

For Monday's stop in Israel, most Israeli government ministers were planning to boycott the airport ceremony until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a fit and demanded that they attend. (The ministers were a little miffed that Trump gave away one of their intelligence operatives while swinging his yuge "intel" around for the Russians.) The White House had previously requested that Israel shorten the welcoming ceremony officials had planned at the airport because of the heat, which is lucky considering that Trump was falling apart just three days into his trip. It seems that our president is lacking in the strength and stamina required for the job. You might even call him "low energy."

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Still, it probably beats being back in Washington and dealing with the Russian investigation. The last two weeks have been historically bad. Even the best-run White House in the world would have had trouble carrying on with the normal business of governing under these circumstances — and I think everyone knows by now that this is not the best-run White House in the world. So it should not be surprising that for reasons that make no sense whatsoever, the Trump administration chose this moment to drop its proposed budget. And it is a bomb.

First of all, it's bizarre to do this while the president is on his first big overseas trip. As Forbes' Stan Collender observed, the production of the budget is normally a major political endeavor, choreographed in every detail over the course of at least a week. It usually begins with the State of the Union address, when the president would unveil his major policy proposals to the nation. Then administration officials would strategically leak specific details and issue trial balloons, after which top members of the economic team would hit the airwaves to sell the plan to the public. That's just the beginning. Collender explained how things normally work:

The budget was then sent to Congress the next day. The president typically held a press conference to take a political victory lap for what he was proposing. Federal departments and agencies would do a briefing that same day for reporters. Cabinet members would appear the rest of the week at congressional hearings on their budgets. In one final gasp, the new president's budget would then be the prime topic of conversation on that weekend's talk shows.

None of this is happening. It is also true that even if members of Team Trump tried to follow that script it would be tough because of all the scandals and investigations. But they aren't even trying. The president will be on the air all week, but he won't be talking about this. As far as we know, the members of the economic team who aren't traveling with the president aren't booked for any TV this week. Even more problematic is the fact that they are dropping this budget during the same week that the Congressional Budget Office report on the Trumpcare bill is scheduled to be released — which will create another round of devastating headlines in local papers all over the country. And for obscure procedural reasons, the House may even have to go through the agony of voting on that toxic waste of a bill all over again.

Needless to say, the leaks we've seen suggest this budget is a nightmare that could have been written by the most conservative member of Congress advised by the Heritage Foundation. It is a full-fledged assault on children those who are poor or have disabilities and elderly people. According to Jonathan Swan at Axios, these are the bullet points:

Balanced budget: I am told Trump's budget will balance over ten years. To get there, it will propose tough cuts on both the mandatory and discretionary sides — e.g. to the EPA and State Department — and will assume that the U.S. economy will grow at 3 percent instead of the 1.6 percent rate it grew in 2016. The 3 percent growth rate will be reached after a few years, not immediately.

Where the entitlement cuts are made: From programs including SNAP (food stamps), CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), and SSDI (Disability Insurance). The budget proposal will also assume that Trump can sign into law the American Health Care Act — the Obamacare repeal and replace bill that passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate. That bill makes substantial cuts to Medicaid.

How the entitlement money will be saved: The source tells me there'll be an "emphasis on work requirements for able-bodied people" to save money on these social welfare programs.

The new GOP populism looks an awful lot like the old conservative GOP's politics after all.  The only thing missing is the huge tax cuts we know are coming, but Trump will almost certainly insist on a really big show for his "reform" plan. He'll be happy to go out and tell people how much they are winning. He's obviously not so keen on owning up to all the losing.

The good news is that this budget is likely dead on arrival. It will bring a few days of very bad press for Republicans and could shave another point or two off the president's already historically low poll numbers. It suffers from the same dynamic that has made Trumpcare into a giant albatross choking the life out of mainstream Republicans, but with one important difference. Since this austerity budget isn't something they've all been running for office on these past few years (the way they did on repealing Obamacare), it may just die an early death. Which is very much preferable to all the humans who would do so if the bill were passed.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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