Center for American Progress

4 Things You Need to Understand About Trump’s Speech

4 Things You Need to Understand About Trump’s Speech

The president promised a “new chapter of American greatness” but failed to mention massive cuts to programs that help families get ahead.

President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 28, 2017. (AP/Pablo Martinez)
President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 28, 2017. (AP/Pablo Martinez)

While he campaigned on a promise to help working families, President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress are now plotting to destroy many of the programs that enable families to maintain basic living standards and get ahead. Last night, President Trump proposed what he called “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” What he failed to mention is that he would also enact one of the largest cuts to domestic and international affairs programs in history. In fact, Trump would slash $54 billion in investments that help low-income and middle-class families—all while massively increasing the Pentagon budget and pursuing huge tax cuts for millionaires and big corporations.

While Trump was characteristically vague about how he would accomplish these goals, any cuts of this scale would lead to massive hardship for the very working class Americans Trump claims to represent.

Here are just a few highlights of what Trump’s policies would mean for American workers and their families.

Trump’s budget would decimate basic living standards for workers and families

Trump’s discussion of his first budget was long on rhetoric and short on details, but one thing is clear: It will require massive rollback of the programs that help working families get ahead and provide basic living standards when times are tough. This includes infrastructure, education, scientific and medical research, affordable housing, and job training—programs already on track to be funded at their lowest level ever as a share of the economy since the government first began collecting the data in 1962.

One plan reportedly under consideration would eliminate Head Start preschool programs and end assistance for victims of sexual or domestic abuse through Violence Against Women grants. It would also make deep cuts to infrastructure programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, despite Trump’s rhetorical support for investing in infrastructure.

There have also been reports of a “hit list” of programs on the chopping block for outright elimination. This not only includes the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—which funds PBS and NPR—but also the Legal Services Corporation, or LSC, which helps millions of low- and middle-income people access legal representation through civil legal aid. Legal aid is often the first line of defense for families facing eviction or foreclosure, individuals seeking protection from domestic violence, people with disabilities wrongfully denied needed services, and more. But due to inadequate funding, for every low-income person helped by legal services, another is already turned away.

Eliminating the LSC would have devastating consequences for workers and families across the United States. But like many of the cuts Trump has in the works, even zeroing out this critical program would hardly make a dent in the federal budget. With an annual budget of $385 million, the LSC accounts for roughly 0.01 percent of the annual federal budget.

Massive tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations will force even worse cuts

The spending cuts that President Trump is proposing to pay for his military buildup are just the tip of the iceberg. If Congress pays for increased military spending with cuts to other programs, then Trump’s tax cuts will eventually force even larger cuts to domestic programs.

During the campaign, President Trump appeared to be concerned about Wall Street billionaires avoiding taxes—he said they were “getting away with murder”—but his actual tax plan would be a huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans. The campaign plan would cost roughly $6 trillion over 10 years according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, with households in the top 1 percent getting an average tax cut of $214,690 in 2017 alone. The top 1 percent would receive roughly half of Trump’s tax cuts, while the bottom 20 percent would only get about 1 percent of the benefit.

President Trump promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but his tax cuts for the wealthy would take away revenues that are needed to protect these programs. These tax cuts will make it easier for Congressional leaders, such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), to claim that a “looming fiscal crisis” means that politicians have to cut these programs. Tom Price—President Trump’s secretary of health and human services—has even proposed a budget process that would enable Congress and President Trump to make across-the-board cuts to these programs without having to take a clear vote to enact these cuts.

It would take an across-the-board spending cut of 13.5 percent to pay for Trump’s tax plan. Struggling families will go hungry due to cuts in nutrition assistance, students will struggle to pay back more expensive student loans, and unemployed workers will be even less able to make ends meet with their unemployment benefits while they look for work.

For retirees, people with disabilities, and surviving spouses and dependents, a 13.5 percent cut to Social Security would reduce the average monthly benefit—currently only about $1,249—by nearly $170 as a means to give the wealthiest Americans and big corporations a giant tax cut. This comes at a time when Social Security benefits are already modest. More than one-third of seniors rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income

Trump violates his campaign promise to protect Medicaid

President Trump campaigned on a promise to protect not just Social Security and Medicare—but also Medicaid. Yet, in last night’s speech, Trump continued his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, which not only rolls back Medicaid expansion—which has saved countless lives—but also could include additional and dramatic cuts to Medicaid in order to finance an ACA replacement.

Trump promised to give states “the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out,” but the potential plans to replace the ACA would leave out millions of Americans. The ACA replacement outline from House Republican leaders uses “flexibility” as a stand-in buzzword for a block grant or per capita cap on federal Medicaid funding provided to states, under which the government would set limits on funds provided for Medicaid. States would be forced to either pick up the tab or—much more likely—kick people off the program. Seniors and people with disabilities who turn to community-based services in order to live independently are likely to be hit hardest.

Trump claims he will not leave anyone out, but these Medicaid limits would likely lead to a loss of coverage and deep hardship for people who currently rely on the program. A similar plan championed by Secretary Price would cut over $1 trillion from Medicaid over 10 years, causing some 20 million Americans to lose Medicaid coverage.

Trump’s work and family proposals mainly benefit the wealthy

While President Trump was short on details about his cuts, he did mention his plans to spur infrastructure investment and provide parental leave and child care. But when you look closely at these plans, you find that they are plagued with the same problems as his other proposals—namely, they tend to funnel more money to the wealthy and big business—while providing little help to average Americans.

President Trump’s infrastructure proposal, for example, amounts to little more than a massive giveaway to Wall Street investors—with taxpayers left holding the bag. Investors would receive a tax break to pay for infrastructure projects that deliver private profits to their shareholders—profits that come from Americans paying high-cost tolls or new fees. The projects private investors are most likely are those that generate the highest profit. Thus, airports that serve corporate jets and private utility companies, for example, would likely benefit under Trump’s plan. But the areas most in need of investment—school buildings in low-income communities, levees in coastal areas, or roads and bridges in rural communities—are also the areas most likely to be ignored. If Trump were serious about fixing our roads and bridges and putting people to work, he’d propose a real jobs bill that invests resources in the communities that need it most.

His plans for parental leave and child care are similarly regressive. His child care plan primarily takes the form of a tax deduction—a tool that almost always disproportionally benefits the wealthy. Because child care spending would be deducted at tax time, poor and middle-class families would have to pay the full cost of child care up front. And many would not benefit from the deduction at all, since they would get a better deal from the existing Child and Dependent Care Credit. So who would benefit from Trump’s plan? Wealthy families who get more value from tax deductions because they are in higher tax brackets.

Meanwhile, his inadequate leave policy only benefits new parents. It will leave out people who need leave for a medical emergency or to take care of a loved one, including parents. In fact, a 2012 U.S. Department of Labor survey found that nearly 80 percent of Americans took leave for reasons other than the birth or adoption of a child. If you look at the 20 million Family and Medical Leave, or FMLA, leave takers, more than 15 million would be left out of a paid parental leave proposal that only covers the birth or adoption of a child.

President Trump plans to pay for this family leave plan by robbing the nation’s already underfunded unemployment insurance, or UI, system. As of 2016, only 18 states’ UI trust funds were prepared to face even a mild recession. Funding family leave through UI would stress these trust funds even more. And many workers do not even qualify for UI. Part-time and low-wage workers, for example, are disproportionately excluded from UI, and independent contractors, such as some gig economy workers, are not eligible for unemployment benefits at all. These workers are more likely to be women and would likely miss out on family leave under a Trump plan. And because UI is run by the states, states could voluntarily opt out of a family leave plan administered through the UI system. President Trump claims he can find savings through “fraud and improper payments,” an unrealistic promise given low levels of such instances in UI.


President Trump staked his presidential campaign on helping the working class, and last night, he promised that “a new chapter of American greatness is now beginning.” But if Trump really wanted to help the workers who have been left behind, he would reject policies that put his millionaire and billionaire friends first and make job-creating investments in our roads and bridges; education; and research and development. He would support direct investments in the communities suffering from job loss. He would call on Congress to raise the anemic federal minimum wage, which is no longer enough to keep a family out of poverty. And he would expand, not cut, investments in basic living standards like food and housing.

Jeremy Slevin is the Associate Director of Advocacy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Harry Stein is the Director of Fiscal Policy at the Center. Rebecca Vallas is the Managing Director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center.

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Jeremy Slevin

Director of Antipoverty Advocacy

Harry Stein

Director, Fiscal Policy

Rebecca Vallas

Senior Fellow