For Donald Trump, being a “compassionate conservative” like George W. Bush wasn’t good enough.
During his campaign, he cast himself as an uncompromising populist who would fight for forgotten poor, rural Americans. But his budget blueprint is a betrayal of those people and his populist message, according to several former Republican budget officials.
“Where’s the populism?” said Steve Bell, a Republican and longtime Senate Budget Committee director who blamed the conservative Heritage Foundation that’s long pushed for slashing the federal government. “This is almost like Trump said, ‘Hey somebody get me a budget’ and Heritage said, ‘We’ve got one right here,' " said Bell.
Bell is among a number of former GOP budget officials openly critical of the president’s first budget outline to Congress because it fails to address the long-term drivers of the debt and appears “vindictive” in eliminating programs that serve the poor and elderly. On Capitol Hill, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., former chairman of the Appropriations Committee, called the cuts "draconian, careless and counterproductive" in a statement. Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., one of Trump's first and closest allies in Congress, said he has serious concerns about "significant cuts to local programs, which I believe go too far."
The budget asks for a $54 billion increase in defense spending funded by deep cuts to domestic programs. Many of these programs serve the working-class people who super-charged Trump’s march to the presidency over more “establishment” Republicans.
Examples include cuts to job-training programs seen in rural strip mall storefronts where displaced workers can get new skills training; a 21% cut to the Department of Labor that enforces occupational and mine safety programs meant to protect coal miners; eliminating the LIHEAP program that subsidizes winter home heating costs for low-income Americans (many served are in Great Lakes states like Michigan and Wisconsin that voted Republican for the first time in a generation); and community grant programs that support services like “Meals on Wheels,” which delivers hot meals to seniors who are poor or alone.
Trump’s budget would also eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission, created under President Lyndon Johnson to support the economically depressed region of the country Trump made so central to his campaign. The program provides small business loans, invests in local infrastructure and provides job training.
The White House says the budget reflects Trump’s promise to target waste in the government and prioritize the security of the nation. It increases spending on Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. Yet, while Trump vowed to slash federal government during his campaign, he was never specific about cutting social programs that benefit low-income Americans.