‘The president’s budget, as we all know, is a recommendation,’ Mitch McConnell told reporters in Washington DC. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters
Donald Trump’s proposal to reduce spending by $3.6tn, mostly by slashing antipoverty programs that provide social safety nets for the poor, ran into bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill, where a number of Republican lawmakers rejected the cuts as “draconian” and “nonstarters”.
The president’s plan recommends $616bn in cuts to Medicaid, the government insurance programme for the poorest and many disabled Americans, while increasing border security spending by $2.6bn – including $1.6bn to begin construction on a wall along the US-Mexico border.
While fiscal conservatives welcomed the proposal, which aims to balance the budget by 2027, Republicans raised concerns that the plan would slice too deeply into programs that provide poor Americans access to healthcare, food stamps and student loans, setting the stage for a showdown over budget priorities.
“The cuts are draconian,” Kentucky representative Harold Rogers, a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee, said of the proposed cuts to Medicaid.
Representative Mark Meadows, the chairman of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus, praised the budget as “conservative” and said the White House presented a plan that “fundamentally could be implemented”. Though Meadows said he was encouraged by budget reductions to welfare programs, he could not get behind stripping funding from Meals on Wheels, a program that provides meal assistance for senior citizens that the president’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, dismissed in March as “just not showing any results”.
Arizona senator John McCain called the proposal “dead on arrival” in a statement, and knocked the $603m defense budget request “inadequate to the challenges we face”.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, “The president’s budget, as we all know, is a recommendation. We’ll be taking into account what the president is recommending but it will not be determinative in every respect.”
Trump’s package of spending cuts and tax breaks assumes an economic growth rate of 3%, which many analysts have dismissed as improbable. The Congressional Budget Office forecast under current policy is 1.9%.
Presidential budgets are wish lists the White House sends to Congress. There was never a chance it would pass through untouched.
“Clearly Congress will take that budget, and then work on our own budget, which is the case every single year, but at least we now have common objectives,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters.
Rather than criticize the budget, the Wisconsin conservative sought to paint a rosier picture, insisting that there were elements of the proposal that all Republicans could get behind.
“Here’s what I’m happy about – we finally have a president who’s willing to actually balance the budget,” Ryan said. “The last president never proposed, let alone tried, to balance the budget.”