Longtime federal budget experts quickly slammed the White House’s proposed 2018 budget on Tuesday. Its $1.4 trillion in cuts over the next decade would endanger tens of millions of households, especially the poor and vulnerable, while rewarding the wealthy with unneeded tax cuts and giving contracts to military contractors and others to privatize many government functions.
But inside the right-wing bubble that is the Trump White House and GOP-majority Congress, what’s taken as serious policy ideas, spending principles and rationales for the president’s 2018 budget is reality-averse craziness.
Even as budget watchers say there’s no way Trump’s blueprint will make it through Congress, the starting line — before compromises, concessions and deals begin — is not just mean, cruel and uninformed; it’s delusional. Not only would the budget hit working-class white voters who bet on Trump like a lottery ticket, but the budget also shows a White House living in a land of make-believe.
Don’t take my word for it. Here are 15 excerpts from the transcript of White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s briefing Tuesday. The excerpts reveal this crew lives in a land where red ink bleeds, but people don’t; where the only deserving Americans are those who served in the military, not the poor, disabled, hungry nor fixed-income seniors; and where freezing health care spending isn't seen as a cut, even if the marketplace keeps jacking up prices year after year.
There have been many credible, lucid and analytical comments about this proposed budget, but sometimes it's important to listen to what the actual authors say, as it is revealing about their thinking and values — or the lack thereof. Take a look.
1. This isn’t a budget, it’s dressed-up tax cuts. Mulvaney said as much at the start of his press briefing. “The name on the cover is ‘The New Foundation for American Greatness.’ As I read through it over the weekend, as I did — in fact, we've been working on this since before I actually got here — it struck me that the title should have been different; that the title should have been, "A Taxpayer-First Budget." Because that's what this is . . . We looked at this budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the bills.”
2. If they’re hurting people, well, that’s compassion. The George W. Bush administration used to label itself the “compassionate conservatives.” The Trump administration has updated that by saying government needs to take pity on taxpayers, not the recipients of government benefits — even if they are people who have paid taxes for years! “Compassion needs to be on both sides of that equation. Yes, you have to have compassion for folks who are receiving the federal funds, but also you have to have compassion for the folks who are paying it. And that is one of the things that is new about this president’s budget.”
3. It’s official. Trump-economics means 3 percent growth. People have been asking, what is their economic philosophy. It is what it has always been for Trump: exaggerated predictions about the future. “What is Trumponomics?" Mulvaney asks, then answers: "What is it? It’s sustained, 3 percent economic growth. Everything that we do in this administration, every single time I am called into the Oval Office, whether it’s on immigration policy, health care policy, tax reform policy, trade policy, budgets and spending — the focus is sustained, 3 percent economic growth.”
4. $54 billion for military, cops, border walls. Anybody in the business of creating arms or using force will get more, whether they need it or not. “National security, obviously [is] a priority for this president. Border security [is] another priority for him . . . The total plus-up, again, for the 2018 budget is $54 billion over the Congressional Budget Office baseline. The law enforcement gets a significant increase here, and that's both at the federal and the state and local level as we follow through on our efforts to enforce the law."
5. The needy always wear uniforms! This is where it starts to go off the rails. Mulvaney thinks only veterans are deserving of safety nets, and everyone else is a freeloader. “If I can look you in the eye and say, ‘Look, I need to take this [tax] money from you so that I can help this injured vet,’ I can do that in good conscience — I can look you in the eye, and my guess is you're okay with that. I am a lot less comfortable to the point of not wanting to look you in the eye and say, ‘Look, I need to take this money from you to give to this person over here who really isn’t disabled but is getting a disabled benefit, or this person over here who is supposed to use the money to go to school, but isn’t actually going, or a program that is supposed to encourage you to graduate from high school, or from college, but is only 6 percent effective . . . That's the type of compassion we talk about, and that's the type of different perspective that we bring to the budget.”
6. Unless they happen to be corporate privateers. The budget is a big boon to those seeking to privatize federal services: “We also increase spending for school choice and paid parental leave, making this president the first president of either party to propose a nationwide paid parental leave program for parents and adopted parents. There’s $20 billion in that over the course of the 10-year window . . . National security, border security, law enforcement, veterans, school choice, paid parental leave. They are all campaign promises that the president made while he was running for office.”
7. Red ink matters more than bleeding in real life. They want to cut federal spending regardless of the real-life consequences and say that’s compassion. “We're no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs. We're not going to measure compassion by the amount of money that we spend, but by the number of people that we help. And that is how you can get 3 percent economic growth. That is how you can balance the budget in 10 years.”
8. They say spending freezes don’t amount to cuts as the years go by.This incredible claim, which presumes a world without price inflation, concerns their spending on state-run Medicaid, the health care program for poor people. “There are no Medicaid cuts in the terms of what ordinary human beings would refer to as a cut. We are not spending less money one year than we spent before. What we are doing is growing Medicaid more slowly over the 10-year budget window than the Congressional Budget Office says that we should or says that we will under current law.”
9. They would privatize Medicaid or turn it into block grants rationing care. “We happen to think, for example, that Medicaid is designed for more of an urban poor population than a rural poor, as predominates in South Carolina. And we would ask them every single year — would ask them, the federal government — give us more control over how this money gets spent. We think we can do it better. We think we can either provide the same services to the same number of people cheaper, or we can provide better service to more people at the same amount of money if you let us do it better. And the federal government always said no. In the [House-passed Obamacare repeal] American Health Care Act, we say yes, and we give the governors and the state legislatures a lot more control over Medicaid.”
10. Yes, that's more than $800 billion in future cuts they're touting. The Obamacare repeal passed by the House takes more than $800 billion out of future Medicaid spending over the next decade. Mulvaney says that will help treat the needy better: “Everyone is interested in seeing the truly needy in their state and in our nation get the care that we promised them in Medicaid. But there's a better way to do it than under current law, which is Obamacare. We can also talk about what a failure that is. But there's a better way to do it, and that's what the American Health Care Act does.”
11. They could collect half a trillion in taxes, but will cut safety nets. This exchange from the Q&A part of Mulvaney’s press conference is stunning, as the White House budget director said there are hundreds of billions in uncollected taxes out there, but they don’t think it’s a good thing to collect the funds.
Mulvaney: “The tax gap is the amount of money that we should collect in taxes every single year, but don’t. 2016 — that number is $486 billion. Almost enough to close the deficit that year. And we don’t assume an additional penny of that being closed as part of our tax reform. Why is that important? There's probably two reasons that people—well, three reasons people don’t want to pay tax. Number one, they just don’t pay tax, and there's always a certain number of people who don’t want to do that. Number two, it's just too hard for them to do it. It's too complicated for them to do it. Two reasons. Now I feel like I'm a Monty Python skit. But two reasons. And we think that —”
Question: “Airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.”
Mulvaney: “Exactly. That if it's a simpler tax code, that people are more likely to pay. That simply makes sense. If you can really fill out your tax reform — tax returns on a single piece of paper, you're much more likely to actually do it. It's also easier for us to see if you're paying the right amount. A simpler code is easy for you to pay and easy for the government to see if you're paying the right amount, which would allow us very reasonably to assume a reduction in the tax gap. And we don’t do a single penny of that.”
12. The EPA cuts are anti-climate science, but that's not anti-science! Huh? Here, Mulvaney said the Obama administration was overreacting to climate change and the only way to stop that was to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency. “What I think you saw happened during the previous administration is the pendulum went too far to one side, where we were spending too much of your money on climate change and not very efficiently. We don’t get rid of it here. Do we target it? Sure. Do a lot of the EPA reductions aimed at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes. Does it mean that we are anti-science? Absolutely not. We're simply trying to get things back in order to where we can look at the folks who pay the taxes, and say, look, yeah, we want to do some climate science, but we're not going to do some of the crazy stuff the previous administration did.”
13. They still want to build a border wall. They don’t want to do crazy stuff like staving off climate change, but they want to build a Mexican border wall. “We are absolutely dead serious about the wall. In fact, after taking care of national security and the vets, my guess is, it's in the president's top three. In fact, I know for a fact that it is. And we've made that very clear to the folks on the Hill that while we did not get as much money as we wanted for border security in the 2017 omnibus—we didn’t get a lot; many of you were here for the presentation I gave on that—that we will see increased border security between today and the end of the calendar year. By the same token, we're going to continue to press on.”
14. People on SSDI — disability — are not really on Social Security and not really disabled. Trump promised older voters would not touch Social Security or Medicare, but Mulvaney says recipients of Social Security’s disability assistance are not really on Social Security and are just lazy and trying to avoid work. “Social Security disability. It is a welfare program for the long-term disabled. It is not what most people would consider to be Social Security . . . There are people who are getting SSDI who should not be getting it.”
15. Same with food stamps; people pretend to be hungry. This is unbelievable, pretending that there is no such thing as hunger in America, because national economic statistics are saying we’ve emerged from the 2008 recession. “During bad economic times, more people will go onto food stamps. So it's completely within reason to look at that number — it went from 28 million on food stamps before the recession to 47 million at the height. It's 44 or 42 today. Yet here we are, eight years removed from the end of the recession. We've had economic growth, albeit slow. We're at what we consider to be full employment… Why is the number still that high?
The White House’s right-wing bubble
The release of the White House’s proposed FY 2018 budget, for the year starting October 1, has prompted plenty of serious analyses — including some saying its assumptions fall apart if its 3 percent growth prediction is off. But those mainstream analyses are playing along as if this is a serious proposal grounded in grown-up governing. It’s not. Mulvaney, you may have noticed, did not discuss real details from federal programs to be fine-tuned.
This is another dressed-up version of the only thing this administration wants to do — cut taxes for the rich and make an army of contractors rich via privatization. This budget stops government revenues and blows up federal programs, leaving it up to states to clean up the mess. At the end of the briefing, Mulvaney was again asked by a reporter about cutting food stamps. Only on Monday did NPR air a report on how hunger was widespread throughout Appalachia and in many states that voted for Trump.
“Folks who are out there who are on food stamps and want to work, we'll be able to work with them to solve the problem,” he replied. “They are not what’s causing the difficulties in SNAP [food stamps]. It's the folks who are on there who don't want to work. And that's what we're trying to point out to people is, look, if there’s 44 million people on there, eight years from the end of the recession, maybe, maybe it's reasonable to ask if there are folks who are on there who shouldn’t be. That is a reasonable question to ask. I would even suggest to you it's a compassionate question to ask.”