One of the most abhorrent things in President Trump's budget proposal is his plan to slash funding for Meals on Wheels and Head Start, two popular government programs that deliver resources to low-income children and older Americans. When asked about this on Friday, Trump's budget chief explained that actually, cutting programs for poor Americans is compassionate. And I'm sure others would strongly disagree.
Mick Mulvaney, the White House's director of the Office of Management and Budget, made the comments at a press conference after a reporter asked him if the budget cuts were "hard-headed."
"I don't think so," Mulvaney replied. "In fact, I think it's probably one of the most compassionate things we can do."
"Cutting programs that help the elderly?" the journalist retorted. Mulvaney's response is worth quoting in full. He said:
Let's get one thing out of the way first: Head Start and Meals on Wheels are effective government programs. The latter delivers hot meals to over 2 million seniors a year, 87 percent of whom say the program makes them feel "more safe and secure," according to the group's internal data; in addition, the program also saves money by decreasing the rate of falls, according to a Duke University study.
Head Start, meanwhile, provides health care, education, and other services to around 940,000 low-income children and families per year. This includes everything from immunizations and dental care to workforce training, dual language classes, and parenting training. The program also employs 229,577 people and serves 85,442 homeless families every year, according to 2014-15 data. Economist and Nobel Laureate James Heckman concluded that the program "has significant beneficial short-term effects, strong long-term effects and deserves government investment."
In other words, the programs work. So what, then, is the White House's objection?
A clue can be found toward the end of Mulvaney's remarks. He says that the White House doesn't want to allocate this money unless it's being used on a "proper function." And that is what it comes down to: Mulvaney (and by extension Trump) simply doesn't think welfare spending is a "proper function" of the federal government. The White House opposes funding for these programs not on pragmatic grounds, but on ideological ones.
One of the most disingenuous things about Mulvaney's remarks was his implication that poor Americans are being sucked dry by the IRS to fund Meals on Wheels and Head Start. That's not true: America has a progressive, not regressive, tax system, so programs that serve the poor are funded by people with more money. In all likelihood, the "single mother of two in Detroit" isn't funding Head Start or Meals on Wheels — she's benefiting from them.
To be sure, there is an intellectually-coherent case to be made for conservative tax policy, trickle-down economics, and the elimination of welfare programs. It's not a very compelling case, in my opinion, but it's possible to make that argument and, at the very least, be internally consistent with one's own beliefs and assumptions.
But this isn't what the White House is doing. It's not owning up to its ideology and simply making an argument for conservative economic policies. Instead, it's claiming to embrace a liberal — and yes, compassionate — worldview, yet it's promoting policies that accomplish conservative goals. And that's not compassion. It's misdirection.