An ambitious opening bid is a basic tactic of negotiation, basic enough that Donald Trump (or his ghostwriter, at least) wrote about it in The Art of the Deal: “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing … Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.”
Trump’s draconian budget proposal has all the signs of a gambit designed to get what Trump, and his negotiating partners in Congress, really want, which is a slightly less draconian budget. So it’s cold comfort to its intended targets – the poor, the sick, many in rural red states Trump won – that the budget plan won’t pass in its current form. No president’s budget plan ever does. “Dead on arrival” is how John McCain described it, though his objection was that it does not shift enough money from welfare recipients to defense contractors.
Make no mistake: Trump’s budget will be horrific no matter what form it takes in an eventual appropriations bill. Some of the highlights – these are things the White House sees fit to brag about – include cutting children’s health insurance, disability insurance, farm aid, food stamps, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the coup de grace: halving Medicaid spending by over $600bn.
This is a betrayal of Trump’s campaign promise, to working class voters who will bear the brunt of these cuts, not to touch Medicaid. It’s made possible by our lack of universal healthcare, instead of which we have a patchwork of targeted health programs for those who can’t or mostly don’t vote – children and poor people – and are thus politically easy to cut.
Congressional Republicans are already feigning shock at some of the more egregious cuts Trump has in mind, including money for cancer and Alzheimer’s research, and Meals on Wheels, calling them “a bridge too far”; elderly people, after all, actually do vote. Don’t be fooled, though. The same lawmakers fanning themselves and reaching for the smelling salts have been pushing the same austerity program for decades. Cutting Medicaid is something Paul Ryan said he’s been dreaming of since he was “drinking at a keg”, while Mitch McConnell has complained that Americans are “doing too good with food stamps, Social Security, and all the rest”. The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts have been Republican targets for elimination since the 80s.