By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - Congressional Democrats attacked U.S. social safety net changes proposed by President Donald Trump in his 2020 budget plan, with a senior lawmaker on Tuesday saying Trump's cutbacks in programs such as Medicaid and food aid were "intended to do harm".
Trump's budget is widely seen as a dead letter on Capitol Hill, where the Democratic-majority House of Representatives will kill it, but Trump's proposals are likely to follow him into his 2020 presidential reelection campaign.
Some programs he pledged to protect when he was running in 2016 are singled out for cuts in his latest budget, including the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly and the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor and disabled, Democrats said.
The Democrats also denounced Trump's proposed cutbacks in education, community development, student loans and free school meals for low-income students.
"These cuts in the Trump budget aren't a tightening of the belt ... They are extreme to a level that is malicious, a level that is intended to do harm," said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth at a hearing on the budget plan.
Russell Vought, acting White House budget director, defended Trump's plan, saying it represents an attempt to be fiscally responsible at a time of trillion-dollar budget deficits.
He said the president is requesting more spending cuts than any other president in history and he complained that Trump so far has been "blatantly ignored" by Congress.
In 2017, when Republicans still controlled both chambers of Congress, as well as the White House, they pushed through deep tax cuts, mainly for businesses, that were projected to add $1.5 trillion to the $20 trillion national debt over 10 years.
Trump called on Monday for spending more U.S. taxpayer money on the military and a U.S.-Mexico border wall, while spending less on social safety-net programs.
Vought told the committee that the president's budget plan would save $517 billion in spending over 10 years in Medicare, a program that many Democrats want to expand.
The president's proposal also includes work requirements for Medicaid recipients, and it would convert Medicaid to a state-administered program supported by federal block grants.
"Did President Trump acknowledge he was breaking a key campaign promise when he agreed to a budget that cuts Medicare?" demanded Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky.
"The president doesn't believe he is breaking his commitments to the American people at all," Vought replied, saying the budget proposed not cuts, but reforms that would help lower drug prices, leading to Medicare savings.
Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar said 29,000 children in her state of Minnesota would lose access to free school meals if the administration's plan to cut those meals became law.
"What this budget does is quite literally take food out of the mouths of children," while increasing spending on defense, Omar said. "How is the assessment made what child deserves to eat and what child doesn't?" (Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish)
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