“The billionaire class got the budget they wanted.”*
That was the reaction from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) after he had a chance to read and digest the Trump budget plan, presumptuously entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness“.
The controversial plan calls for cuts totaling $3.6T over the next decade, and does a remarkably thorough job of targeting the social safety net. For example, the budget cuts $800B from Medicaid, $193B from Food Stamps, and $53B from unemployment insurance, all calculated over the 10-year horizon. The Republicans also found time to take on smaller issues, gutting funding for scientific research and encouraging the slaughter of America’s majestic wild horses, all as aggressive cost-cutting measures.
Sanders told reporters he expected the worst from the billionaire in the White House, but even he wasn’t prepared for this. “There’s almost nothing left. He squeezed everything he could out of the middle-class and the working people of this country, so he can give himself a tax cut.”
Sanders’s concerns were echoed by many Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was especially shocked by the planned reductions in Medicaid spending, noting that “The White House’s Medicaid cuts are so extreme that actual annual spending on the program only goes up by 37% over 10 years.”
Schumer was referring to an alarming chart prepared by The Washington Post, which confirms that the size of the Medicaid program very nearly declines in some years, but thankfully remains positive.
Technically, spending on the program still increases in Trump’s budget, but it increases at a much slower rate than previously planned. Schumer said this is like taking food out of people’s mouths.
“This isn’t an issue of dollars and cents,” he told reporters at an informal briefing. “This is about keeping our promises. We promised the American people we would rapidly grow the average cost of healthcare and the the number of poor people in this country that depend on the government for their health insurance. Now Mr. Trump wants to break that promise.”
Stepping back from the details, it’s clear that this is one of the most fiscally conservative budgets that has been put forth in recent times. While spending never actually falls, the rate of increase is so small that it’s barely noticeable. In terms of actual planned annual spending, Trump’s budget calls for an increase of merely $1.6T or 41% over the 10-year period.
In other words, as Senator Warren (D-MA) put it, “It’s basically anarchy.”
*This is a satirical post. While all the links and figures cited in this piece are factual (if deeply confusing), the quotations and comments assigned to politicians are fictional in nature.
Also, if you’re new to the topic, you might be wondering how a budget plan can simultaneously have $3.6T in budget cuts over 10 years while, in reality, also increasing actual annual spending by $1.6T. The reason for this is the curious way that the term budget cut often gets used in politics. The $3.6T number is the difference between the total 10-year spending that would occur if no law changed, and the total that will be spent if the budget plan is passed with no modifications. So if current law predicts a dramatic rise in spending, and you propose a slightly less massive rise in spending, that’s a “budget cut”. And if you accumulate it over 10 years, it’s likely to be a pretty big number. Meanwhile, the $1.6T figure is one that I calculated. It’s simply the amount of spending projected in 2027 under the budget proposal less the total projected annual spending for 2017.
The unfortunate part of this language is that both sides have a strong incentive to use the larger and more confusing 10-year budget cut number. For Trump’s opponents, they can show a very scary and large number and argue that Trump is trying to radically shrink the government–something their supporters will eat right up. Meaningful, Trump’s team can cite the the big budget cut number in order to brag about how fiscally responsible they are. The end result is that everyone’s confused, and, hysterical headlines notwithstanding, the size and expense of the federal government will continue to go up rapidly.