So it has come to this: a Russian government-funded propaganda outfit schooling the Trump administration on the cruelty of its proposed federal budget.
Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, unveiled Trump’s ghastly 2018 budget proposal Monday afternoon in the White House briefing room, and one point of pride was that it proposed that the child-care tax credit and the earned-income tax credit – benefits for working families – be denied to illegal immigrants. “It’s not right when you look at it from the perspective of people who pay the taxes,” Mulvaney declared.
But Andrew Feinberg, a reporter with Russia’s Sputnik news outfit, pointed out that many of the children who would be cut off under Trump’s proposal are U.S. citizens. “Whether they’re here illegally or not,” Feinberg noted, “those families have American-citizen children.”
Mulvaney, who probably didn’t know he was being interrogated by Sputnik, argued back, saying that Feinberg wasn’t duly considering taxpayers and that “we have all kinds of other programs” for poor kids.
At this, another reporter in the room interjected: “You’re cutting that, too.”
It was a bizarre scene: an organization financed by Vladimir Putin’s regime, in the White House, lecturing a Trump administration official. (Maybe they aren’t “colluding” after all.) But Trump’s budget is such that it leaves this White House’s credibility on a par with (or perhaps below) that of a Russian propaganda outfit.
The budget claims it balances the budget over a decade without touching Social Security and Medicare, while spending more on national security, the border, infrastructure and more.
How? The budget would eviscerate aid to the poor, and it makes preposterous assumptions about future growth. In other words – a cruelty wrapped in a lie. Mulvaney acknowledged it’s a “fair point” that Congress will ignore the proposal. But this outrage deserves attention.
Trump, who once vowed “no cuts” to Medicaid, would now cut Medicaid by more than $800 billion, denying support to 10 million people. He lops a total of $1.7 trillion off that and similar programs, including food stamps, school lunches and Habitat for Humanity.
Mulvaney, in defending the budget, made a frank admission: “This is, I think, the first time in a long time an administration has written a budget through the eyes of people who actually are paying the taxes. Too often in Washington I think we often think only on the recipient side.”
Exactly. The rich pay the most in overall taxes (even if not by percentage), and they get the lion’s share of benefits from Trump’s budget. The poor and working poor pay little or nothing in federal income taxes – and they would get little or nothing.
But even taking all benefits from the poor and the working class wouldn’t make a budget balance, particularly if Social Security and Medicare aren’t chopped. Even Mulvaney said he was “honestly surprised” he could balance the budget. How? By making magical assumptions.
Mulvaney said the annual growth the Obama administration and Congressional Budget Office forecast was “pessimistic.” A better word might be “responsible,” but the Trump administration realized what Mulvaney called an “ugly truth”: “You can never balance the budget at 1.9 percent” growth.
And so – voila! – the Trump administration assumes 3 percent growth for the next 10 years, a level not seen in decades. Magical assumptions make budgets magically balance.
Many of the press corps regulars were traveling, so Brian Karem, from the Montgomery County Sentinel in Maryland, called out the first question: “What about critics who say this budget is incredibly hardhearted, especially for the least of our brothers?”
Mulvaney said it was “hardhearted” to take money from taxpayers for ineffective programs.
CNBC’s John Harwood asked about Trump’s promise not to touch Medicaid. Mulvaney’s response was about Obamacare.
Another reporter asked whether there would be anything to replace cuts to medical care for pregnant women or preventive-care services. “The short answer is I don’t know,” Mulvaney said.
The budget director employed creative euphemisms, saying cuts to food stamps were part of a “cost sharing” plan with states. But he wasn’t really fooling anybody – certainly not the man from Sputnik. Feinberg, an American, explained while smoking a Camel outside the briefing room that he was a freelancer who took the job because it was a paying gig. He filed two items for Sputnik, including one noting that Trump’s budget would deny tax credits to “parents who aren’t legally in the United States even if their children are American citizens.”
Feinberg’s reports were true. It’s the Trump budget assumptions and justifications that amount to propaganda.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.