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AP FACT CHECK: How Trump's 'Penny Plan' adds up to big cuts

Posted September 16

— Donald Trump's "Penny Plan" sounds like a painless pinprick in the federal budget — a 1 percent annual cut in a chunk of government spending, adding up to huge savings. "One penny," he says. "We can all do that."

But it's really an axe that would hollow out much of what it touches.

In his economic speech Wednesday in New York, Trump said the plan would save $1 trillion over a decade. Military spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans programs would be left untouched.

How can a mere penny on the dollar do that, especially when the biggest budget items are exempted?

A look at some of Trump's economic claims and how they compare with the facts:

TRUMP: "If we just save one penny of each federal dollar spent on nondefense and non-entitlement programs, we can save almost $1 trillion over the next decade. One penny, we can all do that."

THE FACTS: It's far from that simple. Trump only has about a third of the budget to work with, because he's vowing to protect the vast areas of spending in the other two-thirds. The cuts he's actually talking about would add up to about 25 percent over the 10 years, compared with what would happen with future spending under current law, calculates the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Those cuts are "potentially drastic," the committee says in its analysis of the Penny Plan, and Trump did not spell out what they would be.

The chunk of spending he would target — known as non-military discretionary spending — covers health programs, education, the environment, public works, energy and almost everything else the government does, apart from the huge entitlement programs and Pentagon spending. And the cuts would come as the country grapples with rising health costs and an aging population.

If the country bites the bullet and accepts severe cuts, would that really save $1 trillion in a decade? Not quite, but in the ballpark.

The group's analysis estimates savings of $700 to $800 billion. "Still," it says, "implementing the proposal would be quite difficult without eliminating or dramatically scaling back several government functions, and we would encourage the Trump campaign to identify where at least some of these cuts would come from."

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TRUMP, on 14 million people leaving the workforce during Obama's presidency: "My economic plan rejects the cynicism that says our labor force will keep declining."

THE FACTS: It's not cynicism that's the problem, it's mostly aging.

Roughly 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, and many of them retire. That reduces the number of Americans working or looking for work and limits how fast the economy can grow. Fewer people working translates into slower growth. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the labor force participation rate will be 60.2 percent in 2026, down from 62.8 percent today, based partly on population trends.

To be sure, aging isn't the only factor. The proportion of Americans in their prime working years — from age 25 through 54 — who have jobs or are looking for work is still about 1.5 percentage points below pre-recession levels. Some have given up looking, while others have joined the disability rolls.

It's also true that the number of Americans outside the workforce has increased to 94 million from about 80 million when Obama was inaugurated. That also reflects increasing retirements, and the rising likelihood that those aged 16 through 24 will stay in school rather than seek work.

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TRUMP: "Over the next 10 years, our economic team estimates that under our plan, the economy will average 3.5 percent growth and create a total of 25 million new jobs."

THE FACTS: That sounds like a lot, but it's the current pace of job growth, which is a little slower than in 2014 and 2015.

In the past 12 months ending in August, the U.S. economy has added nearly 2.5 million jobs — the same annual pace Trump is promising. In 2015, the economy added 2.7 million, and the year before that, 3 million. Those were the two best years of hiring since 1998-99.

Trump's goal, then, could be quite realistic, but it might be hard to square with his declaration that his plan is "the most pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-family plan put forth perhaps in the history of our country."

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TRUMP: "I believe the Fed is very political, it's become very political."

THE FACTS: Trump offered no evidence to back up this assertion. It's the Federal Reserve's job to help make the economy better, and to the extent that happens, political leaders and their party may benefit. But presidents can't make the Fed, an independent agency, do anything

The Fed, under chairman Ben Bernanke and his successor and current chairwoman, Janet Yellen, has attracted controversy by pegging the short-term interest rate it controls to nearly zero for seven years. After one increase in December, it is still ultra-low at between 0.25 percent and 0.5 percent, a rate that some economists worry could spark a stock-market bubble or inflation. Bernanke was initially appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, and reappointed by Obama.

It's not unusual for those unhappy with Fed policy to see political motives at work — and those critics might not always be wrong.

In 1993, for example, Fed chairman Alan Greenspan sat next to first lady Hillary Clinton during Bill Clinton's speech to a joint session of Congress, in a move widely interpreted as support for Clinton's deficit reduction policies.

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What political news is the world searching for on Google and talking about on Twitter? Find out via AP's Election Buzz interactive. http://elections.ap.org/buzz

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Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Jim Drinkard contributed to this report.

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