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President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he will ask each of his Cabinet secretaries to cut 5 percent of their respective budgets, shortly after he pledged to reduce spending and lower the U.S. budget deficit.
"We're going to be asking for a 5 percent cut from every secretary today," Trump told reporters at the White House in advance of a meeting with those secretaries.
The proposal comes days after the Trump administration announced a $779 billion budget deficit for fiscal 2018 — a six-year high and a 17 percent jump from the previous fiscal year.
"He's asking them to cut the fraud, the waste, the abuse," White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway said on Fox Business Network. "Cut the fat, not the essentials."
Trump had said in an earlier interview on the network that "We're going to cut spending, absolutely."
"It's not as tough as you think, and frankly there's a lot of fat in there," Trump added, while noting that "we had to get the military done last time." Trump signed a $716 billion defense spending bill into law in August.
The president did not mention any specific area of government spending he planned to examine for cuts. But he also said during the interview that his administration will "continue with the tax cuts, because we have other tax cuts planned."
Pushing through more tax cuts, along with plans he mentioned to pursue an infrastructure package after the midterm elections, would apparently contrast with his stated goal of reducing budget deficits.
Trump also appeared to blame Democrats, at least in part, for the ballooning deficit. "In order to get that $716 billion, I had to give up things to the Democrats that I hated to give up," he said. "But we had to rebuild the military."
Trump's comments follow remarks from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday, in which the Kentucky Republican blamed rising budget deficits on social safety net spending rather than tax cuts. Democratic leaders and candidates, who have repeatedly used fears about cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as a tactic to motivate voters, quickly seized on McConnell's comments ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Days earlier, USA Today published an op-ed by Trump warning seniors that government-run "Medicare for all" proposals from progressives and some Democrats would "end Medicare as we know it." Washington Post Fact Checker's Glenn Kessler said in his analysis of the op-ed that "almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or falsehood. "
The president's talk of trimming spending — even though he did not specifically identify those programs — may only excite Democrats more. GOP leaders have largely tried to avoid talking about the issue as the party desperately defends its House majority.
Democrats in battleground House races across the county have raised the specter of Republicans rolling back social safety net spending in order to make up for revenue lost through tax cuts.
On Tuesday, McConnell said the growth in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending "is a bipartisan problem." He criticized the "unwillingness to address the real drivers of debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future."
It is unclear whether Democrats will be open to bipartisan reforms if they take control of the House and Republicans keep the Senate, which political analysts currently consider the most likely scenario after the midterms.