They say that a White House budget is merely a messaging document – especially in an era of divided government. In that case, the Trump administration has sent a grim message to America’s seniors in its 2020 spending proposal. It goes something like this: older Americans living on fixed incomes – especially the elderly poor – must get by with less.
“President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal shortchanges seniors, plain and simple. In combination with 2017’s tax cuts for the wealthy and the administration’s failure to allow Medicare to negotiate with Big Pharma, the Trump budget shows that this administration is not plugged-in to the realities of being elderly in America.” – Max Richtman, National Committee president
Among other things, the White House budget cuts $25 billion from Social Security Disability Insurance, $845 billion from Medicare – and $1.5 trillion from Medicaid. This is from a President who promised “not to touch” older Americans’ earned benefits. The administration proposes to cut the Social Security Administration’s operating budget by about 1%, at a time when the agency is just beginning to recover from past spending cuts that hobbled customer service. In addition, the Trump budget flat-lines or eliminates federal grants for several programs that help lower-income seniors – including Meals on Wheels and home heating assistance:
Federal Block Grant Programs that Help Fund Older Americans Act Programs
Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) (HHS) Eliminated
Social Service Block Grant (SSBG) (HHS) Eliminated
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) (HUD) Eliminated
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (HHS) Eliminated
The White House offers up these cold-hearted cuts while proposing to hike the Pentagon budget by 4% and demanding $8.6 billion for Trump’s border wall. Democratic leaders in Congress proclaimed the Trump budget dead on arrival, with good reason.
“President Trump’s budget once again lays out an irresponsible and cynical vision for our country, without any regard for its human cost. It lacks foresight and would leave our nation unable to meet our obligations to the American people.” – Rep. John Yarmuth, (D) House Budget Committee chairman
“Donald Trump promised the American people that he would be a different type of Republican, that he would be a champion of the working American and that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But his budget does the exact opposite of what he promised the American people.” – Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-VT)
Fortunately, momentum is building on Capitol Hill to boost – rather than cut – earned benefits. Senator Sanders and Rep. John Larson have introduced bills to expand Social Security. Rep. Debbie Dingell and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard put forth legislation that would improve Medicare benefits, including dental, vision and hearing coverage. The Democratic majority in the House will work to protect Medicaid from cuts threatened by the White House and GOP, including the program’s expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). (The Trump budget would repeal the ACA and eliminate Medicaid expansion.)
If the prevailing political winds are blowing in the direction of expanded benefits and away from cruel cuts, why worry about a White House budget that has no chance of enactment? The 2020 Trump spending proposal serves as a warning of what the administration would do if it were not for the firewall known as the Democratic-led House of Representatives. These draconian ideas – though rejected by voters in the 2018 mid-terms – remain in the conservative political bloodstream, requiring continued advocacy on the part of seniors and their champions in Congress.