Regional memo: Trump budget proposal spells more pain for D.C. region
President Trump’s full budget plan, issued Tuesday, is even worse for the Washington region than the initial “skinny” version released in March, local government officials and analysts say.
The new one includes all the same ominous proposals that prompted warnings that the spending plan would worsen economic inequality and possibly tip the area into recession. The White House still wants to shrink the local federal workforce by thousands of jobs and slash spending for affordable housing, job training, environmental protection and the National Institutes of Health.
But the president has gone further by urging historic cuts in entitlement programs including Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. If enacted, those reductions and others would tear large holes in the social safety net, and overwhelm state and local governments with new spending burdens.
“Clearly it is going to be devastating for us,” Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said. “We can’t make up for the cuts that would be made to the social programs. The county doesn’t have the resources to do it, and the state’s not going to make up the difference.”
It wasn’t all bad news for the region. One pleasant surprise was the inclusion of the annual $150 million grant to Metro for new equipment and other capital spending. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) also praised the White House for providing $30 million for the District’s school tuition grant program.
But Trump’s plan drew a cold response overall, even from top Republicans. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R), who represents part of Northern Virginia, faulted it for being unfair to federal workers and for failing to support “science research, disease prevention, combating the opioid epidemic, Chesapeake Bay cleanup and more.”
A spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) also was negative, saying the governor “is on the record opposing many of these proposed cuts,” including to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, Medicaid and NIH.
Like Republicans in some other states, spokeswoman Amelia Chasse also suggested that nobody should get too upset about the budget because Congress probably will drastically revise it.
“The administration’s budget doesn’t appear to be a realistic one,” Chasse said. “And given the number of members of Congress from both parties who have already expressed concern about these cuts, they seem unlikely to become reality.”
But Democrats and others warned against complacency. They noted that many of Trump’s proposals are similar to measures that Republicans who control Congress have advocated in the past. Even if the GOP scales back some of the proposals, they said, the damage to the Washington region would be significant.
“The Republicans can now use this as a baseline,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said. “They can say, ‘He [Trump] zeroed it out, and we restored half of it’ — but that means half the disabled population it was serving will no longer be served.”
D.C. City Administrator Rashad Young said the region should “be very concerned about the marker that the White House has laid down about what it thinks the spending priorities ought to be.”
Young said a preliminary analysis of the new proposed budget shows that the city administration would lose between $150 million and $250 million a year in grants and other federal contributions, and cost it 157 full-time city jobs — significantly more than was estimated when the preliminary budget outline was released in March.
In addition, among the reductions in entitlements, the cuts in Medicaid and other health-care programs in the District are projected to total between $1.8 billion and $4.1 billion over seven years. Unless the city raised taxes or found extra revenue elsewhere, thousands of low-income people would be hit with health-care bills they would be unable to afford.
Although politicians representing the District and the close-in suburbs criticized the budget, some conservatives from further afield in Virginia and Maryland were supportive. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), whose district includes the Eastern Shore, said cutting entitlements would motivate the unemployed to find jobs.
“Work requirements for able-bodied Americans receiving government assistance help elevate people out of poverty and will root out much of the waste, fraud and abuse currently straining the nation’s welfare programs,” Harris said.
That argument was disputed by Wayne Turnage, director of the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance. He said most people in the city’s Medicaid program are working, but in jobs that don’t provide health care.
“I think what you’re seeing is the Republicans finally getting the opportunity to do what they’ve wanted to do since Medicaid was formed [in 1965], which was break the entitlement,” Turnage said.
The White House also cited the need to halt undeserved handouts in its plan to reduce spending on SNAP by 25 percent. About 1 in 5 District residents get some of their food from the program.
The proposed cuts in Medicaid and SNAP, like the rollback of spending for housing and job training, would affect the entire country and not just the Washington region. What is unique for the nation’s capital and its suburbs is the heavy economic hit that would come if the federal workforce shrinks as Trump envisions.
“The biggest damage that’s going to be done is going to be the whack at federal employment and the ripple effect on federal contracting,” Connolly said.
The “Trump effect” is slowing economic growth in the area, according to veteran local economist Stephen S. Fuller at George Mason University. He pointed to recent figures showing a significant drop in job creation in March and April.
“People are not investing — they’re sitting back,” Fuller said. “The bad-mouthing of Washington in the national media is not helping.”
Fuller estimated that the Trump budget, if fully enacted, would mean the loss of between 20,000 and 24,600 federal jobs in the region in 2018. About 370,000 people in the area hold federal jobs.
Young, the District administrator, was asked if he saw “anything good” in the proposed budget.
“Not yet, but it’s 1,400 pages,” he said. “There could be something there.”