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Americans For Prosperity's Tim Phillips On Trump's Budget Proposal

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Democrats have so many objections to President Trump's budget proposal they can hardly find the time to get it all out - slashes popular programs, offers tax cuts to the rich - doesn't seem to add up correctly - breaks the president's promises to keep his hands off Medicare and Medicaid. We could go on.

Well, some conservatives have their own questions from a different perspective. Tim Phillips is here to talk about that. He's the president of Americans for Prosperity, founded - partly funded by the Koch brothers. Good morning, sir.

TIM PHILLIPS: Steve, good morning.

INSKEEP: Thanks for coming back. What's wrong with this budget, if anything?

PHILLIPS: We would hope it would balance more quickly. We're piling up dead at a rate we've never seen before. And in many ways - I hear liberals saying this is an immoral budget, but what really is immoral is to leave the next generation with debt that they're not going to be able to pay, especially when they're struggling already to launch their lives and careers.

INSKEEP: Well, it's interesting. The president does say the budget balances, even though there are very large tax cuts in it. But there are many questions about how it balances, that there's a $2 trillion math error, a $2 trillion double counting of what to do with economic growth that they imagine will come from enacting this budget. Does that make sense?

PHILLIPS: We do think that changing the way we prioritize federal spending and tax policy will increase growth. During the Obama years, we had a 1.9 percent growth rate. That's just not sustainable, Steve. We're not going to get where we need to go as a nation at 1.9 percent.

And to be fair, during the last few years of the Bush administration, growth was below 3 percent as well. That's never happened before, at least in the modern era, where we've had a decade of below 3 percent growth. That's the real problem here.

INSKEEP: So let me just go through this. You favor tax cuts.

PHILLIPS: Yes, we do, tax reform.

INSKEEP: You want the budget to balance or get closer to balance quickly, which means even more dramatic spending cuts probably than the president has laid out. Should the White House, rather than have a $2 trillion math error, just own up to that? We're going to slash the federal government even more than we proposed to do.

PHILLIPS: I think that you can get there with entitlement reform only. That's what we're going to have to do at some point. Medicare, their own board says they're going bankrupt in about 15 years. You've got to reform that program to save it for the next generation. It's not a question of, oh, are we spending enough money or not spending enough money? Their own numbers say that, so...

INSKEEP: The money you say is in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.

PHILLIPS: We're going to have to go to entitlement reform, and we're going to have to get growth. And we believe a tax reform plan - and I think the Trump administration deserves a lot of credit for their tax reform plan because it is bold. It's far-reaching. And we do think it'll help stimulate economic growth, which will drive revenues to the government.

INSKEEP: They are also proposing cuts to a lot of discretionary programs, and this is a thing the Democrats are unhappy about, cutting food stamps, disability programs, many, many cuts over the course of a decade. Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, says that people who really need these programs don't need to worry. Let's listen to a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICK MULVANEY: We are not kicking anybody off of any program who really needs it. That's not - we have plenty of money in this country to take care of the people who need help. We don't have enough money to take care of people - everybody who doesn't need help.

INSKEEP: OK. So he's saying some people don't need the help. We're going to get them out of these programs. A lot of these programs are for lower income people and benefit economically distressed areas that voted for Donald Trump. Do you agree with the proposition that many Trump voters are getting aid that they do not need?

PHILLIPS: I think that in many cases government aid actually increases dependency and lessens the opportunity and the incentive for these folks to go out and get jobs. In many cases, that's the case because you lose certain benefits if you hit income levels because you begin working.

And I think that we do have to make reforms to these programs. The welfare reform under Clinton and Gingrich in the 1990s actually made progress. Those were rolled back in recent years, though.

INSKEEP: OK. Tim Phillips, thanks for coming by, really appreciate it.

PHILLIPS: Steve, good - thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: He's president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.