Mick Mulvaney
white House budget director Mick Mulvaney. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Perhaps you’ve heard some of the horrifying accounts of what is included in the budget the Trump administration is proposing today. Here are just a few of the details of the 10 year projections:

Cuts to the social safety net

Food stamps – $193 billion
Earned income tax credit – $40 billion
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – $21 billion
Medicaid – $610 billion (in addition to the $800 billion cut in AHCA)
Children’s Health Insurance Program – 20% reduction


Military – $54 billion (an annual increase)
Customs and Border Protection – $3 billion

The tax cuts for the uber wealthy are breathtaking. The top 1% will get a $250,000 tax cut per year. But the 400 richest Americans who make over $300 million per year will get a tax cut of at least $15 million annually.

As I’ve watched stories appear over the last few weeks about this budget, I haven’t commented much. That’s because this is merely the president’s proposal and has no chance of becoming law. The real action will come with what Congress does over the next few months.

But there is a way in which this one is important: It is a strong statement of the Trump administration’s priorities and values. The person who is tasked with defending those values is OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. As a reminder, he is the one who suggested that the Meals on Wheels program doesn’t work. He is also the one who made this morally repugnant statement about people with pre-existing conditions.

…he drew a distinction between people like Kimmel’s son, born with a congenital heart disease, and people who end up with conditions like diabetes. “That doesn’t mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly and gets diabetes,” Mulvaney said…

Here is what Mulvaney said in defense of this budget:

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the spending plan, titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” is focused on protecting taxpayer money and cutting spending on programs that are ineffective or encourage people not to work.

He singled out the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the modern version of food stamps, which grew rapidly after the financial crisis and had 44 million beneficiaries in 2016.

“We need people to go to work,” Mulvaney said. “If you are on food stamps and you are able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you are on disability insurance and you are not supposed to be, you are not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work. We need everybody pulling in the same direction.”

Once again, he is making a morally repugnant argument. It would be possible to write volumes to support that judgement, but I’ll focus on just three of the most egregious examples.

First of all, I wonder how children who are fed by SNAP and/or provided health insurance by CHIP/Medicaid are supposed to go back to work. I’m sure Mulvaney would say that it is their parents who need to go back to work. But an increasing number of them already are. Here’s the data with respect to health insurance:

What we found is that low- and moderate-income families between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($23,550-$94,200 for a family of four), whose parents were receiving insurance through their employer, increasingly looked to Medicaid or CHIP to insure their children…

By 2013, one-third of working families in that income bracket were relying on CHIP and Medicaid to extend coverage to their children.

The numbers are even higher for SNAP recipients.

The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so.  Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP — and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP.  The rates are even higher for families with children — more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.

Secondly, it is difficult to imagine how Mulvaney expects seniors, whose nursing home care is paid via Medicaid, to go back to work. Do I need to go any further with that one? The suggestion is simply unconscionable.

The argument that these cuts are designed to promote work is a lie, and always has been.

Thirdly, Mulvaney also trots out the old myth about fraud in the Social Security Disability program. This is a favorite argument of extremist Republicans and their libertarian friends like Sen. Rand Paul.

At a breakfast event Wednesday, Jan. 14 in New Hampshire, the Kentucky Republican and potential presidential candidate spoke out against a public safety net that catches too many people who don’t need help.

“The thing is, all of these programs, there’s always somebody who’s deserving. (But) everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system,” Paul said.

The proof? Look no further than the diagnoses landing people on disability, he added.

“Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club,” he said to laughter. “Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a little back pain.”

One way they try to sell this myth is by insinuating that if you can’t visibly see a disability, it doesn’t exist. Beyond that, the cases of fraud are infinitesimal.

After an audit of disability insurance in 2013, the Government Accountability Office estimated that  in fiscal year 2011, the Social Security Administration made $1.29 billion in potential cash benefit overpayments to about 36,000 individuals who were working and making more than $1,100 a month (the limit to receive disability benefits).

The 36,000 people receiving improper payments, while a lot on paper, represent about 0.4 percent of all beneficiaries, the report said.

None of these arguments will make any difference to the Trump administration in general or to Mick Mulvaney in particular because they already have access to this information. When they try to justify these cuts, they are simply telling lies, and it is very likely that they know it.

What these people can’t do is tell the truth—which is that they don’t support the idea of helping children, the elderly or the less fortunate in our society. They think everyone should simply fend for themselves as best they can in a dog-eat-dog world. If they suffer…so be it. Using that argument would not be politically prudent. So they lie.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.