The Trump administration released a proposal in late June for a massive reorganization of the federal government that could make it easier to make cuts to key social safety net programs. However, the plan could be a tough sell for a divided Congress.
Details on the proposed reorganization were put out by the U.S. Office of Budget and Management (OMB), which produces the president’s budget and monitors agencies to ensure compliance with the president’s policies. The proposal pitches sweeping changes for agencies ranging from the U.S. Postal Service to NASA. As expected, it would move the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
SNAP and other social safety net programs have already been under continual assault by the Trump administration and the GOP, despite the program’s popularity with voters in the United States. The Trump administration’s plan could mean further attacks on these and other federal assistance programs.
A provision to rename HHS the Department of Health and Public Welfare could be among these attacks. Advocates claim the move is a dog whistle to pave the way for cuts to the department. “His proposal to move nutrition assistance programs including SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) into the Department of Health and Human Services—and to slap a racial dog-whistle on the doors of the agency by putting WELFARE in its name—would effectively create a Mega-Agency of Programs Trump Wants to Cut, while smearing everything from childcare to Meals on Wheels as ‘welfare’ in hopes of making it all easier to slash,” said Rebecca Vallas, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress in an email to Rewire.News.
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However, the name change wasn’t the only aspect of the proposal that concerned Vallas. “Trump even wants to create a ‘council of public assistance’ housed at the renamed agency, whose singular charge appears to be slashing vital programs that help struggling families make ends meet, powered by sweeping new executive authority designed to circumvent Congress,” she said. “This comes on the heels of Trump’s action earlier this year to end Medicaid as we know it by enabling states to take health insurance away from people who can’t find work or get enough hours at their job—a policy that legal advocates have said exceeds Trump’s executive authority.”
In a gridlocked U.S. Congress, it would be difficult to pass the sheer volume of bills required to implement the full range of reorganizations in the OMB proposal. Even changing HHS as proposed would face specific bipartisan opposition.
Some Republicans have fretted that such a massive reorganization would create bloated bureaucracies that could be difficult to manage. “Count me as a little skeptical just because the reason we divided up the old [Department of Health, Education and Welfare] was because it was just too big, too unwieldy,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), chairperson of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, told Bloomberg Government in June. “And that’s what I’m worried about here.”
In addition to Cole’s concerns over the potential size of the consolidated agencies, some experts warned that moving SNAP away from the USDA would disrupt the delicate legislative balance needed to pass the Farm Bill—which is currently used to fund SNAP—every year.
“There’s a pretty intentional political coalition that current situation … creates to link up the interests of farm states and agricultural industry with people who care about a social safety net,” said Jeff Hauser, who has written for Rewire.News and is the executive director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “Moving the administration of the issue away from an agency that has, at its core, [been] helping American farmers and putting it into an agency designed to be a ‘reduce-the-social-safety-net’ agency, I think the agricultural industry [would oppose it].”
Hauser also claimed that the government reorganization proposal could be a political ploy to cover up for the deficit Trump’s massive tax cut created.
A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office indicated that the deficit would hit $1 trillion by 2020 as a result of the massive GOP tax cut passed last year, a debt level not seen in the United States since the end of World War II.
“They passed [the tax cuts] and they did not actually also reduce spending. In the past, they’ve always talked about tying their tax cuts for the rich to a reduction in government spending,” Hauser said. “There is an effort to try to figure out a way to claim to have ideas to cut spending and to try to blame the increase in the deficit not on massive tax cuts for the rich but on claiming that there is this massive social safety net in America and that it’s bankrupting us.”