The president’s plan would adjust social-welfare programs so they are easier to cut, scale back or restructure, among them a food subsistence benefit that provides aid to 42 million people.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, spurred on by conservatives who want him to slash safety-net programs, on Thursday unveiled a plan to overhaul the federal government that could have a profound effect on millions of poor and working-class Americans.
A look at some of the Trump reorganization plan’s proposed key changes:
Education-Labor merger: The plan calls for the merger of the Education Department and Labor Department into a single Cabinet agency, which would be called the Department of Education and the Workforce.
Food stamps: Nutrition-assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children would be consolidated under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Under the plan, HHS would be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare.
Food safety: Food-safety functions would be consolidated into a single agency called the Federal Food Safety Agency.
Background checks: The National Background Investigations Bureau would be shifted from the Office of Personnel Management to the Defense Department to improve efficiency and provide a secure operation.
Postal Service: The U.S. Postal Service would be restructured and returned “to a sustainable business model,” but no details were offered.
Government data: The proposal would reorganize the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics under the Commerce Department.
Rural housing: The Agriculture Department’s rural-housing loan-guarantee and rental-assistance programs would shift to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Associated Press
Produced over the past year by Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, it would reshuffle social-welfare programs in a way that would make them easier to cut, scale back or restructure, according to several administration officials involved in the planning.
Among the most consequential ideas is a proposal to shift the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a subsistence benefit that provides aid to 42 million poor and working Americans, from the Agriculture Department to a new mega-agency, the Department of Health and Public Welfare.
That proposal, which includes a plan to merge the Education and Labor departments to consolidate workforce programs, is not likely to gain the congressional approval needed to make the changes, Mulvaney’s aides conceded in a phone call with reporters Thursday.
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But the rollout has a bigger long-term purpose, said Margaret Weichert, one of Mulvaney’s deputies who drafted the proposal. She cast the proposal as a rallying cry for “small government” and said the audacity of the plan proved “why many Americans voted for this president.”
Trump, for his part, joked Thursday that the plan was “extraordinarily boring” before TV cameras in the Cabinet Room.
But being boring in an all-too-exciting White House has provided cover for a small army of conservatives and think-tank veterans who have been quietly churning out dozens of initiatives like the proposal to reshuffle the Cabinet, with the ultimate goal of dismantling the U.S. social-welfare system from the inside out.
“Our guys have been in there since the start, grinding it out, and basically no one is noticing it except the smart liberals like Rachel Maddow,” said Stephen Bannon, the president’s former adviser, who believes the attack on social programs will be one of Trump’s most enduring policy achievements. “It is one of the reasons Trump is at like 97 percent with the base. This is what the base wants,” he said.
Philip Alston, a New York University professor and the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, agreed with Bannon’s assessment. “My sense is they are making very considerable progress, even though no one is paying much attention,” he said.
But Alston, author of a recent study on endemic poverty in U.S. cities and the rural South, has a different view of what Trump’s aides are trying to do. “There is a contempt for the poor that seems to permeate the president’s inner circle that seems very worrying,” he said. “It’s done under the banner of providing opportunity and seeking long-term solutions, but it all seems designed to increase misery.”
The president is deeply disinterested in the details of policy and can identify only a handful of domestic-policy aides, including Mulvaney, by name, according to current and former staff members.
A few weeks after Trump took office, Mulvaney and a handful of other aides, including Reince Priebus, then the chief of staff, approached the president to suggest a slate of entitlement changes to reduce costs in the Medicare and Social Security programs.
They were a few minutes into their pitch, according to someone familiar with the meeting, when Trump waved a dismissive hand and shouted, “No way! What else you got?”
Trump has, however, given wide latitude to conservatives like the education secretary, Betsy DeVos; the housing secretary, Ben Carson; Attorney General Jeff Sessions; the director of the Domestic Policy Council, Andrew Bremberg; and Mulvaney, who has emerged as the most provocative and hyperactive of the president’s senior policy advisers.
Benjamin Hobbs, a former employee of Heritage and the Charles Koch Foundation, who received a top policy job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), was a driving force behind a proposal to raise rents on some of the poorest residents of subsidized housing by as much as 44 percent, according to two administration officials.
Carson, his boss, broadly supports the idea of reducing dependence, aides said, but was lukewarm on the idea. The backlash to the proposal was so severe that Carson wavered when asked whether he planned to back legislation needed to achieve the increases.
Rick Dearborn, another former employee at Heritage, who served as deputy chief of staff for Trump during his first year in office, steered about 70 Heritage-linked experts into policy roles in the White House and various Cabinet departments.
By early 2017, Heritage produced a government-reorganization plan that served as the initial template for Thursday’s announcement.
“Once the transition started, we seized on the opportunity to help out and define the policy agenda of the next administration,” said Paul Winfree, a social-policy expert at Heritage. “We went to work while much attention was paid to the palace intrigue or on personalities. Having one big personality isn’t enough to change a government. Having many good people … in the right places is the key,” Winfree said.
The core of Trump’s safety-net policy is an expansion of work requirements to foster self-sufficiency among recipients of food assistance, Medicaid and housing subsidies to reduce dependence on the government. “Our goal is to get people on the path to self-sufficiency,” Bremberg said.
Some of Mulvaney’s recommendations, including changes to federal personnel management and State Department overseas aid programs, can be done through executive action alone.
But many other parts of Mulvaney’s reorganization plan are likely to face resistance in Congress, including work requirements, efforts to consolidate fisheries and wildlife programs, aggregate food-safety and inspection programs in the Agriculture Department, shift rural-housing programs to HUD and move the Army Corps of Engineers to civilian agencies, among others. “This is an art-of-the-possible exercise,” Weichert said.