A House Budget Committee hearing turned heated Wednesday as Democrats excoriated President Trump’s proposed cuts to entitlement programs and domestic spending and Republicans ripped their Democratic colleagues for failing to offer their own budget.
Democrats directed most of their criticism toward acting White House budget chief Russell Vought, who was testifying in support of Trump’s spending proposal for fiscal year 2021.
“Your infrastructure program is weak and pathetic,” Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) told Vought.
Trump’s budget proposal, released Monday, calls for a 5 percent cut in domestic spending, which covers almost all government agencies except the Pentagon, while reducing payments to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid by $2 trillion over a decade.
Vought insisted that the requested cuts were driven solely by a desire to reduce costs and overhaul mandatory spending programs.
“We don’t think people will lose coverage because of these proposals,” Vought said when asked about proposed work requirements for SNAP, also known as food stamps, by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.).
“We believe that people will get off of food stamps and get off of the cycle of dependency with jobs that don’t require them to be on the social safety net program,” Vought added.
Horsford shot back that people earning $18,000 a year at their jobs still need government assistance.
“Putting people on part-time jobs that don’t pay livable wages doesn’t get them off a cycle of dependency,” he said.
Budget watchers have criticized Trump’s proposal for attempting to save money by making anti-poverty programs and Medicaid more difficult to access, though some analysts have defended the Medicare reductions.
An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscally conservative advocacy group, said the White House budget proposal would not harm Medicare benefits.
“Rather than reduce Medicare benefits, we estimate these proposals would lower premiums, out-of-pocket medical costs, and state and local health care spending by a combined $325 billion,” the group wrote.
Some Democrats have been careful to avoid saying the cuts will affect beneficiaries. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was asked whether he believed the proposed cost reductions amounted to benefit cuts.
“There are cuts in programs that benefit Medicare,” he responded.
A Schumer spokesman declined to say whether Schumer believed the proposal would reduce benefits.
But Vought insisted that none of the proposed cuts, including those to Medicaid, food stamps or Social Security disability benefits, would have negative repercussions for beneficiaries, a point Democrats vigorously protested.
“If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and looks like a duck, it’s a duck,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
Democrats also said the administration should put forth legislation before proposing cuts based on assumed savings.
“I have to be a little bit miffed, I guess is the best word, because you talk about savings and waste and fraud, and that you’re going to be doing different types of approaches. But has the administration offered any legislation in any of these areas?” Yarmuth asked.
“The administration has not offered legislation to deal with health care, to deal with an alternative education-student loan program, to do an infrastructure bill,” he added.
Republicans on the House Budget Committee shot back by blasting Democrats for failing to present a budget of their own for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
“Here we are, the greatest nation in the history of the world, and we can’t even manage to come up with something as simple as a budget,” said ranking member Steve Womack (R-Ark.).
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said the Budget Committee was supposed to be the “adult in the room,” and make hard decisions on spending.
“But we’re not doing that. Instead, we’re taking really easy but disingenuous political shots at the president’s budget,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week he will not bring a budget resolution to the Senate floor this year, even though Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) says he plans to craft one.
McConnell said Congress will instead stick to the spending caps agreed to last year with Trump and congressional Democrats.
Democrats have argued they don’t need a formal budget measure, despite the legal requirement to produce one, because of the spending deal with Republicans and the White House.
Last year, Democrats opted for a caps bill in lieu of a full budget, but did not take it to a floor vote because of an internal party dispute over spending for certain agencies.