I’ll resist the temptation to parse the Trump Budget. The document expresses nothing but contempt. Contempt for the poor. Contempt for the environment. Contempt for decency. I could go on.
The White House’s “taxpayer first” budget will not be enacted. I am not even sure it could pass through a Republican caucus, let alone get votes from Democrats, which will be required in the Senate to reach the 60-vote margin.
Every president’s budget dies on Capitol Hill. But this one is notable for its vileness and incompetence.
This budget would not fly in the corporate world (supposedly the source of all President Trump’s wisdom) because it fails the logic test. As The New York Times points out: “The numbers looked great because the White House left out something essential: the cost. When the government cuts taxes, it collects less money. That is the purpose of a tax cut. But Mr. Trump’s budget does not include any hint of a decrease in federal revenue. To the contrary, it projects that federal tax revenue will increase every year for the next decade.”
Book the revenue. Declare victory. And, if this were a private sector budget, get fired.
This basic math error runs throughout the budget. We’re talking about trillions of imaginary dollars. Forget “fake news.” This is fake government.
It’s impossible to increase insurance revenue when you take money away from the largest source of that insurance.
The Indian Health Service is a prime example. One line item of that agency’s budget that has been growing is Health Insurance Collections. This is revenue that comes in when an IHS-eligible patient has insurance from Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans Health, or private insurance. It’s an important funding stream because, by law, the money remains at the local clinic or hospital instead of disappearing into a general budget. The account now totals $1.2 billion. But that pot of money would shrink if the administration’s Medicaid cuts were implemented. It’s impossible to increase insurance revenue when you take money away from the largest source of that insurance, Medicaid, at $808 million.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s contempt for government’s role is to the point where even health insurance is an anti-poverty program.
“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs,” he said. Later he added: “We think we can either provide the same services to the same number of people cheaper, or we can provide better service to more people at the same amount of money if you let us do it better.”
The real problem with this budget is that it works against the interests of so many Americans.
The problem here is that we have no evidence that the Trump administration has any plan to do that. When pressed, the administration says repeatedly that state governments will figure that out. But that’s a difficult task. California is now investigating a single-payer health care plan, and the first draft pencils out at $400 billion a year. That’s twice as much as the entire state budget.
But I promised not to parse. I’ll get back to the budget’s contempt for people who need help.
The real problem with this budget is that it works against the interests of so many Americans. Stripping insurance from 23 million people (the Congressional Budget Office estimate for the House plan released Wednesday) will devastate access to basic health care, especially local hospitals in rural areas. It will wipe out the nursing home industry because 6 of 10 elderly residents are covered by Medicaid. And states will be in no shape to help: Medicaid is the single largest federal resource for state treasuries, totaling $553 billion.
The budget does give a tax break—but to the wealthy—especially Wall Street investors and those families whose assets might be subject to an estate tax.
Yet that, too, is an example of a budget that cooks the books.
While Trump’s budget cuts spending on Medicaid (by about $600 billion over the next decade), the taxes we pay for that insurance aren’t cut. Most of us already pay more in payroll taxes—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—than we do in income taxes. A report by Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation found that while 80 million people making $40,000 or less paid no income taxes, they did pay $121 billion in payroll taxes. The committee found those making between $40,000 and $75,000—middle-income folks—still paid three times as much for payroll taxes than income taxes. That doesn’t change until household income reaches $100,000.
We don’t even think about payroll taxes because they disappear from our paychecks without debate. The White House is counting on that ignorance. That’s contempt.
Updated May 25, 2017: Reflects new Congressional Budget Office figure of $23 million people who would lose their insurance over 10 years of the House GOP health plan.
Mark Trahant is editor-at-large for Indian Country Today. Trahant leads the Indigenous Economics Project, a comprehensive look at Indigenous economics, including market-based initiatives. Trahant is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and has written about American Indian and Alaska Native issues for more than three decades. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has held endowed chairs at the University of North Dakota and University of Alaska Anchorage, and has worked as a journalist since 1976. Trahant is a YES! contributing editor.