Trump’s Budget Cuts to the Social Safety Net Are Greater Than Reagan’s
Policy + Politics

Trump’s Budget Cuts to the Social Safety Net Are Greater Than Reagan’s

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney declared last week, “We are not going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the people on them” in defending the more draconian social spending cuts in President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget.

“We look at spending differently,” Mulvaney testified on Capitol Hill. “Can we justify this to the folks who are actually paying for it?”

Related: 9 Top Takeaways From Trump’s $4 Trillion Federal Budget

A new analysis by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has charged the Trump administration with plumbing historic depths by proposing to slash health care for low and moderate income people and cut all programs in the social safety net.

While seeking major increases in spending on defense, veterans’ affairs, homeland security, construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico along with a major tax cut, Trump’s budget would cut $4.3 trillion of domestic discretionary and mandatory spending through 2027 in a bid to wipe out the deficit.

Of those total cuts, 59 percent or $2.5 trillion would be made in programs to assist low and moderate income people, even while those programs account for just 29 percent of non-defense domestic spending.

Related: Why Trump’s Spending Plan Won’t Really Balance the Budget

The four largest and potentially most destructive cuts include the following:

$1.9 trillion in health care cuts. Those reflect the sharp reductions in the House-passed plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that could strip 23 million people of their health insurance coverage by rolling back expanded Medicaid for poor, able-bodied adults and cutting the traditional Medicaid program.

$400 billion in cuts to discretionary programs for low- and moderate-income people.  The budget beginning next year would make wholesale cuts in programs for people with limited means. For example, it would cut job training grants by 40 percent, eliminate housing vouchers for more than 250,000 lower income households, kill the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and eliminate scores of other programs. 

$193 billion in food stamp cuts. Trump’s budget would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by more than one-quarter by means of a combination of changes in eligibility and benefit cuts and a cost shift to the states from the federal government which would all adversely affect millions of low-income households. 

$22 billion in welfare cuts. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) would take a budget beating as well, even though the welfare program already has lost more than a third of its value since the mid-1990s due to inflation. 

Related: Trump Delays Decision on Obamacare Subsidies – Which Means Prices Will Rise 

The report, written by CBPP budget experts Isaac Shapiro, Richard Kogan and Chloe Cho, found that that Trump’s 2018 budget “contains the largest dollar cuts to programs for low- and moderate-income people proposed by any President’s budget in the modern era, reflecting a strikingly imbalanced approach to reducing the deficit or offsetting the cost of its proposed tax cuts.”

“No other modern President (including President Reagan when he proposed deep cuts to low-income programs in his first budget) has proposed a budget with cuts of this magnitude to programs assisting struggling families, even if the cuts are adjusted for inflation or measured as a percent of the economy,” the report declares.

In an interview, Shapiro and Kogan said that Trump’s budget cuts were nearly double those sought by Reagan in his first budget submission in 1981 when measured as a percentage of the overall economy.

In the fifth year of Reagan’s budget plan, for example, mandatory and discretionary spending cuts combined equaled 0.64 percent of Gross Domestic Product. By contrast, Trump’s proposed cuts in the fifth year of his plan would be the equivalent of a 1.07 percent reduction in GDP. That would rise to 1.57 percent of the overall economy in the tenth year of Trump’s budget blueprint.

“At the time, the Reagan cuts were considered one of the most severe reductions in anti-poverty programs that were ever undertaken by a presidential administration, and people had a general sense of what was going on,” said Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Center.

But now, he said, people are flummoxed by Trump’s “unbalanced budget proposal” that flies in the face of his campaign promises to protect health care and reduce poverty.