The White House budget chief on Wednesday delivered a spirited defense of President Donald Trump's proposal to slash programs from food stamps to healthcare for the poor in the face of strong Democratic opposition and Republican skepticism.
Mick Mulvaney, the former tea party congressman, told the House Budget Committee that he went line by line through the federal budget and asked, "Can we justify this to the folks who are actually paying for it?"
Trump's budget fulfills his campaign pledge to leave Medicare and Social Security benefits alone and boosts spending for the military and veterans. But it treats most of the rest of the government as fair game, including $600 billion in cuts to Medicaid over a decade — on top of repealing its large expansion under former President Barack Obama's health care law.
Democratic defenders of the program warned that would deny health care and nursing home care to millions of people.
The administration also promises a balanced budget in a decade based on rosy economic estimates, including 3 percent growth.
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., laced into the budget, saying it was based on fanciful economic predictions of high growth rates but low inflation and bond yields that would make managing the government's $20 trillion debt less costly.
"This budget presumes a Goldilocks economy" that never goes into recession, Sanford said. "It assumes that the stars perfectly align with regard to economic drivers. Can you guess the last time we had an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, growth of 3 percent and inflation held at 2 percent?
"It's never happened," Sanford said.
Democrats charged that Trump's cuts would rip apart the social safety net. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told Mulvaney that cuts to food stamps, payments to the disabled, and other programs are "astonishing and frankly immoral."
"We are talking about half the births in the United States, 30 million children, and half of all nursing home and long-term care nationwide for senior citizens and people with disabilities," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., citing Medicaid's extensive reach.
"When you say cut are you speaking Washington or regular language?" Mulvaney shot back.
Mulvaney's appearance was one of four slated on Wednesday as Trump Cabinet officials fanned out on Capitol Hill to defend Trump's budget, which contains jarring, politically unrealistic cuts to the social safety net and a broad swath of domestic programs. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue were also testifying.
The plan, Trump's first as president, combines $4.1 trillion for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year with a promise to bring the budget back into balance in 10 years, relying on aggressive spending cuts, and a surge in economic growth.
Trump's budget is simply a proposal. There's little appetite among Capitol Hill Republicans for a genuine effort to balance the budget; GOP lawmakers this year are instead pressing to rewrite the tax code and forge a spending deal with Democrats that would permit higher military spending and restore Trump proposals to cut domestic agencies and foreign aid.
Mulvaney is the driving force behind the Trump budget plan, winning the president's approval for big cuts to benefit programs whose budgets are essentially on autopilot.
"If it's important enough for us to have then we should be paying for it, because right now my unborn grandchildren are going to be paying for it," Mulvaney said.
Other cuts in Trump's budget include $63 billion in cuts to pension benefits for federal workers by eliminating cost-of-living adjustments for most workers and requiring employees to make higher contributions.
In agriculture, the proposed budget would limit subsidies to farmers, including for purchasing crop insurance, a move already attacked by farm state lawmakers.
Trump's balanced-budget goal depends not only on 3 percent growth projections that most economists view as overly optimistic but also a variety of accounting gimmicks, including an almost $600 billion peace dividend from winding down overseas military operations and assuming that overhauling the tax code in a way that provides no net tax cuts would spark that growth and generate more than $2 trillion in higher revenues.
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