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Donald Trump picks a fight over Medicaid he cannot win

The president's latest argument is that Medicaid cuts aren't Medicaid cuts. It's a silly game that should fool no one.
Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.

At a White House event yesterday, a reporter asked Donald Trump to comment on the Medicaid cuts in the Republican health care bill. "It's going to [be] great," the president replied. "This will be great for everybody."

As a rule, "everybody" is a word Trump should probably avoid. He did, after all, promise Americans, "We're going to have insurance for everybody" -- which is a commitment he abandoned soon after taking office.

Nevertheless, Trump's clumsy comments yesterday about the underlying issue is part of a broader area of concern for Republicans. Their plan intends to gut Medicaid -- a popular program that covers more Americans than any other program -- by hundreds of billions of dollars. The GOP response so far has been to insist that Medicaid cuts aren't actually Medicaid cuts. As USA Today noted, Trump joined the chorus last night.

President Trump accused Democrats of lying about the projected Medicaid cuts in the Republican health care plan, but they didn't. They're just counting different things.As Senate leadership struggles to find on a way forward for the controversial health care plan after coming up short of the votes it needed to pass before July 4 recess, Trump defended the proposal, tweeting that "Democrats purposely misstated Medicaid under new Senate bill - actually goes up."

Yes, this is the line Republicans have decided to stick to: it only looks like they're cutting Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars, but that's a ruse concocted by those rascally Democrats.

In reality, of course, it's not just Dems who've raised concerns about the Medicaid cuts; plenty of prominent Republicans, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), have echoed the point.

But more importantly, a semantics debate about the meaning of the word "cut" is ridiculous, even by 2017 standards.

Budget debates can get complicated, but this one's simple: we know where Medicaid spending is supposed to go to keep up with inflation, population growth, and budgetary baselines, and we know where Medicaid spending would go if the regressive GOP plan became law. The latter falls far short of the former.

Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office found that the legislation's "largest savings" would come from "reductions in outlays for Medicaid." Spending on the program, the CBO reported, "would decline in 2026 by 26 percent in comparison with what CBO projects under current law.”

This is a silly game. The whole point of the Republican gambit is to finance tax cuts through Medicaid cuts. To suggest otherwise is to play Americans for fools.