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Trump's Budget Relies On Optimistic Economic Forecasts, Critics Say


President Trump wants to spend more money on the military and less on safety net programs like Medicaid and food stamps. The president's priorities are spelled out in a White House budget released today. Ultimately Congress will craft its own spending plan which may bear little relation to the president's budget proposal, but the document does offer a glimpse of the direction Trump wants to steer the government. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The president's budget doesn't touch two of the federal government's biggest programs, the Social Security retirement system or Medicare. But it would cut hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade from other social programs, including Medicaid and food stamps. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney argues the measure of compassion is not how many people the government helps with those programs but rather how many people it moves off the government assistance roles.


MICK MULVANEY: We are not kicking anybody off of any program who really needs it. That's not - we have plenty of money in this country to take care of the people who need help. We don't have enough money to take care of people, everybody, who doesn't need help.

HORSLEY: Mulvaney says the goal is to put taxpayers first. At the same time, he says there are some areas where the administration sees fit to spend more money, such as the military and law enforcement. The budget also includes $1.6 billion next year for the president's border wall, a down payment on his infrastructure plan and seed money for a program to give new parents paid time off, an idea championed by the president's daughter.


MULVANEY: What are those, by the way - national security, border security, law enforcement, veterans, school choice, paid parental leave? They are all campaign promises that the president made while he was running for office. And that's why I say these numbers are simply the president's policies put onto paper.

HORSLEY: Critics call those policies "Robin Hood" in reverse. Sharon Parrott of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says Trump's budget would hurt some of the neediest people in the country while offering tax breaks that primarily benefit the wealthy.

SHARON PARROTT: This budget really lay to rest any belief that the president is looking out for the people the economy has left behind.

HORSLEY: Budget Director Mulvaney makes no apologies for the cuts. He says while it's understandable that the number of people on food stamps, for example, soared during the recession, that number has barely come down years into the recovery. Mulvaney says by cutting safety net programs, the president's budget is explicitly designed to encourage more people to work.


MULVANEY: We need folks to work. We do. There's a dignity to work, and there's a necessity to work to help the country succeed. And we need everybody to pull in the same direction.

HORSLEY: The White House needs to find millions more workers because it's setting very aggressive economic targets. Trump's budget assumes that annual economic growth will accelerate in the next few years to 3 percent and remain at that elevated level for the better part of the decade. The president is counting on the trillions of dollars in extra tax revenue that would generate to help balance the budget. But many outside observers, like Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, say that 3 percent growth target is highly unlikely.

MAYA MACGUINEAS: We should strive for growing the economy as much as we can, but we should be realistic about the projections we make and not use aggressive economic projections to try to wish our fiscal problems away.

HORSLEY: MacGuineas is skeptical the economy will grow as quickly as Trump wants or that Congress will approve anywhere near the spending cuts he's proposed. If she's right, the government would end the decade not with a balanced budget as Trump envisions but in an even deeper deficit hole. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.


Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.