Trump's budget breaks promises to ordinary Americans

The budget cuts target low-income households REUTERS/Jim Bourg

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump promised "[I am] not going to cut social security like every other Republican, and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid."

But if his first budget were to be enacted, Trump would already break his promise not to cut Medicaid or social security. And an overlooked part of his budget proposal— gutting the Highway Trust Fund— means that his budget will lead to a reduction in infrastructure investment. Medicare spending was spared direct cuts in this budget, but it is hard to see how it's spared in the long-run if these other cuts and the Trump tax cut come to pass.

While the budget's cuts that target low-income households have been widely reported on, some have claimed that Trump's budget spares older households. But this is not the case, and looking at his broken promises shows how.

Medicaid is the most obvious broken promise, with the administration's budget slashing Medicaid effectively in half by 2026, with cuts getting larger thereafter. These cuts will deeply damage older households. For instance, there are nearly 10 million low-income seniors and people with disabilities that are "dual eligible" and enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid. Medicaid provides these older and disabled households with supplemental coverage which helps to fill in the gaps in Medicare's coverage.

The Trump administration's claim to be protecting "core" social security benefits is laughable. Some may think of social security as mostly a retirement program, but it also provides economic security should a worker become disabled before they've reached retirement age, or should they die and leave family members in need of support. Trump's budget cuts up to $64 billion over a decade from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program that protects these families. There is no such thing as "core" Social Security that does not include the disability program. The Trump budget cuts Social Security, period. And this will harm older Americans; three-fourths of SSDI beneficiaries are over 50.

But older households are not alone in facing broken economic promises of the Trump administration. As the cornerstone of a productive economy, infrastructure investment affects all Americans. And the $1 trillion in investment he talked about during the campaign could put a real dent in the growing infrastructure funding gap and provide across-the-board benefits to American families. But the initial Trump campaign proposal never was a plan for boosting infrastructure investment, instead it was simply the skeleton of a plan to give tax credits to private financiers and developers. The administration continues to talk big and offer little. Federal funding for infrastructure in their budget over ten years is just $200 billion. They justify this too-small amount with vague claims about "leveraging the private sector," which really just means higher state taxes and more tolls.

It was always uncertain how much, if any net new infrastructure investment would be provided by such a plan. But now the Trump administration has decided to gut a sure source of infrastructure financing: the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The federal gas tax which funds the HTF hasn't been increased since 1993, slowly starving the HTF of funds needed for infrastructure projects. Congress has continually kicked the can down the road by using general tax revenues instead of higher gas taxes (or any other dedicated revenue source) to pay for the difference between gas tax revenues and projects. Trump's budget would stop covering the shortfall yet not raise the gas tax. This would predictably choke off HTF spending. In the next decade, this would mean about $140 billion less in transportation infrastructure investment with that figure continuing to grow into the future.

The only real promise left standing is that Medicare will be spared. But he has broken every other promise in order to follow Republican orthodoxy. And with his planned tax cut for the rich, it's not hard to see how Medicare could be next. Tax Policy Center estimates that Trump's campaign plan would increase the debt by $7 trillion over the first decade, and by $21 trillion by 2036. Further, the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) deals a huge blow to the taxes that are earmarked for Medicare, hastening the date that the Medicare Trust Fund will be exhausted.

Betting on Trump to buck standard Republican economic ideology has proved to be a losing proposition time and time again. This budget leaves very little standing of Trump's claims to be a maverick. On economics, he seems like a standard-issue, trickle-down Republican. This strategy has been tried enough already, it doesn't work.

-Hunter Blair is a budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute