If Donald Trump said it once he said it many, many times on the campaign trail in 2016: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security would be sacrosanct if he were elected president, and prescription drug prices would be reduced precipitously.
But one year and one month into his presidency, Republican Trump has yet to enact the sweeping changes he promised in the cost of life-saving and life-sustaining medicine.
Indeed, his secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, is a former executive of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.
As for the safety net for elderly retirees and the poor, President Trump would cut a huge hole in it with his proposal to slash Medicare spending by about $500 billion, a nearly 6 percent reduction.
Meanwhile, some beneficiaries of Social Security’s disability program would be forced to re-enter the workforce under proposed changes to eligibility rules.
The reduction in funding for entitlement programs is a major piece of the president’s $4.4 trillion budget plan that was released Monday.
But it flies in the face of the promises Trump made during the 2016 campaign as he won over middle-class voters, including those in the Mahoning Valley.
“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I’m not going to cut Medicare and Medicaid,” Trump said in comments that grabbed headlines during the GOP primaries.
As for entitlements, including Social Security, here’s what the billionaire real-estate developer from New York said:
“People have been paying it for years, and now many candidates want to cut it. You save it by making the United States, making us rich again, by bringing back all the money that’s being lost.”
So, how does the president explain his change of heart? He doesn’t.
Fortunately, the spending blueprint he has sent to Congress is dead on arrival. Although Republicans are in the majority in the House and Senate, they aren’t about to slash spending on programs that have the strong support of the most crucial voting bloc in the country, senior citizens.
Referendum on Trump
Democrats are portraying the off-year election this year as a referendum on Trump. His failure to take on Big Pharma promises to be a major issue in congressional races.
Indeed, a national story about the mother of two children who died of flu complications is likely to add fuel to the already fiery debate in the country over the exorbitant cost of prescription drugs.
The Texas mother was hit by the deadly virus but chose not to buy the Tamiflu medication because it was too expensive.
She subsequently ended up in the intensive care unit, and doctors put her on dialysis.
According to Newsweek magazine, Heather Holland’s body went into septic shock. She died less than a week after she first started displaying symptoms.
Many Mahoning Valley residents live with the reality of having to choose between food and expensive prescription drugs. That’s why Trump’s promise to take on the pharmaceutical industry and force a price reduction across the board resonated.
The Republican carried predominantly Democratic Trumbull County and received a sizable vote in heavily Democratic Mahoning County.
But as each month passes, it seems President Trump and candidate Trump have parted ways on the issues that are important to old industrial regions like the Valley.
As for Republicans on Capitol Hill, the president’s budget is a nonstarter because it would result in accumulating deficits of $7.2 trillion over the coming decade. Last year, Trump’s spending plan projected a decade shortfall of $3.2 trillion.
Embracing the president’s budget would expose the hypocrisy of Republicans on Capitol Hill. They harshly criticized former Democratic President Barack Obama for piling up budget deficits during his eight years in office.
It did not matter to them that Obama was forced go on a spending spree because the nation was still recovering from the Great Recession of 2008.
Republicans, including Trump during his presidential campaign, made the Obama budget deficits a major political issue.
But now, with the GOP in control of Congress and the White House, last year’s $666 billion deficit would increase to $1.2 trillion in the fiscal year starting in October if the president’s budget is approved.
There are just too many political pitfalls for Republicans in Congress, which is why they are steering clear of the $4.4 trillion spending plan.