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Rep. Pramila Jayapal: Trump’s Immoral Budget Punishes the Poor, Sick & Elderly

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President Trump’s $4.4 trillion budget proposes deep cuts to education, healthcare and social safety net programs—while massively increasing the Pentagon’s budget. Trump’s plan would slash the Department of Education’s budget by more than 10 percent. It would sharply reduce income-based student loan repayment plans, while ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Trump’s budget would cut more than $17 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—or SNAP—barring food stamp recipients from buying fresh fruit and vegetables, and instead providing only a boxed food delivery program. The budget would also phase out federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public and community radio and TV stations. This comes as McClatchy reports the Trump administration is considering a plan that would not only impose work requirements for Medicaid enrollees, but which would also put a lifetime limit on adults’ access to Medicaid. Meanwhile, Trump’s budget would see a 13 percent rise in spending on weapons and war, bringing the Pentagon’s budget to $686 billion. We speak to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), vice ranking member of the House Budget Committee and vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to President Trump’s $4.4 trillion budget plan, unveiled this week. The plan proposes deep cuts to education, healthcare, social safety net programs—while massively increasing the Pentagon’s budget. Trump’s plan would slash the Department of Education’s budget by more than 10 percent. It would sharply reduce income-based student loan repayment plans, while ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Trump’s budget would cut more than $17 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, barring food stamp recipients from buying fresh fruit and vegetables, and instead providing only a boxed food delivery program. The budget would also phase out federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public and community radio and TV stations. This comes as McClatchy reports the Trump administration is considering a plan that would not only impose work requirements for Medicaid enrollees, but which would also put a lifetime limit on adults’ access to Medicaid. Meanwhile, Trump’s budget would see a 13 percent rise in spending on weapons and war, bringing the Pentagon’s budget to $686 billion. The administration says its plan would add $7.1 trillion to U.S. budget deficits over the next decade, though many economists say that number relies on rosy projections. The budget comes less than two months after Trump signed into law one of the largest tax cuts in U.S. history, one that overwhelmingly favors the wealthiest Americans.

On Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders questioned Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Explain to me the morality of a process by which we give the third-wealthiest family in America—major contributor, I might add, to the Republican Party—over a billion dollars a year in tax breaks, and yet we cut a program which keeps children and the elderly warm in the winter.

MICK MULVANEY: Here’s the morality of the LIHEAP proposal, Senator: 11,000 dead people got that benefit the last time the GAO looked at it. That’s not moral, to take your money, to take my money, to take the money from the people that you were just mentioning—

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Eleven thousand people got it who shouldn’t have. Correct that. But 7 million people get the program. To say that 11,000 out of 7 million—deal with that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about the budget, we go now to Capitol Hill to speak with Pramila Jayapal, the Democratic congressmember representing Washington state’s 7th District, vice ranking member of the House Budget Committee, formerly served in the Washington state Senate. In 2001, she founded Hate Free Zone, now called OneAmerica, Washington state’s largest immigrant rights organization.

Congressmember Jayapal, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you respond to President Trump’s budget?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, this is—I call it the “three strikes you’re out” budget for working people and the poor and the elderly and the sick and the disabled, because strike one was, you know, to actually transfer $1.3 trillion in wealth from working people and the poor to the wealthiest through the GOP tax scam. And to their credit, they are finally saying, in this budget, that actually those GOP tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, because they’re projecting these enormous deficits as a result of the tax cuts. Strike two is that they’re essentially going to balloon the deficit, and—as you said, $7 trillion over 10 years, a trillion dollars next year alone. And strike three is cutting every program that allows people to live with any shred of dignity, any shred of hope, any shred of opportunity.

And just as an example, let’s just look at SNAP. This is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. They are proposing a $213 billion cut to SNAP. They’re proposing that people have to work in order to get these benefits. And remember that three-quarters of all the SNAP recipients are the elderly, the disabled and families with children. And the average per-person, per-meal benefit that people get on SNAP is $1.40.

So, this budget, you know, to me, is—a budget is supposed to be a statement of moral principles. This is a statement of a immoral principles, because it literally is saying to people that if you’re poor, you’re worthless; if you’re elderly, you’re worthless; if you can’t afford housing because minimum wage has not actually kept up with inflation over the years, and so you may be working two or three jobs, minimum-wage jobs, but you still can’t put food on the table or a roof over your head, then somehow you don’t get to have the assistance of the government to climb out of it. So, it’s a cruel budget.

And while it’s true that this budget is not going to pass this year, because it already contradicts so dramatically the agreement that was made last week in the Senate and the House, the reality is the Trump administration is trying to put forward a proposal that, oh, deficits are ballooned so much that now we have to cut Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. These are programs that three-quarters of Americans rely on. And so, ultimately, this is saying to the wealthiest 1 percent and the biggest corporations—it’s a love letter, on Valentine’s Day, to those millionaires, billionaires and wealthiest corporations. Those are the only people that are going to benefit from this budget.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go through a few more of the things. For example, the cutting of food stamps, instead to give boxes of food to people. The supporters are saying it’s like the Blue Apron approach.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: But can you talk about what this means?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Yes. What it means is, essentially, number one, privatizing that whole program. Number two, it means essentially saying to people, “You don’t even get to choose what you want to eat. You have to eat what comes to you in this box.” And let me tell you, there is very little guarantee that these boxes are going to provide more nutritional value. They’re going to be based on the private companies that support those kinds of boxed programs.

And it’s different—you know, Mick Mulvaney wanted to cut Meals on Wheels. Now, later he said it didn’t—you know, his last budget didn’t cut Meals on Wheels. That’s a program where food is delivered to seniors because—and the disabled, because they’re unable to go get the food. That’s very different than saying to kids and families across the country, “We’re going to determine what you eat.” Not to mention, the amount of infrastructure that they would have to put in place in order to deliver these boxes to people is enormous. So what they do in the budget is they actually cut the actual amount that is used for the program, and they put it into administration of creating that infrastructure. So it’s an even deeper cut.

And if you look at education—you mentioned education in your excellent lead-up to this—you know, they say it’s a 10 percent cut to the education budget. But if you look at how much they’re going to put—I think it’s $1.2 or $1.5 billion into choice programs, which is essentially privatization of public education, it’s an even bigger cut to education. And then you combine with that the public loan forgiveness. I mean, this is really taking away opportunity from everyone.

There’s one other thing I want to just quickly touch on, which is, you know, to me, this is a giant thumbing of the nose to the very people that voted for Trump in many rural districts, hoping that he was going to somehow give them opportunity. He eliminates rural wastewater moneys for rural counties. He eliminates the Economic Development Association, which put millions of dollars into coal-based communities to try to transition them out. He thumbs his nose at the idea of climate change all over again, and global warming, and he literally cuts all of the programs that are related to research and science. The EPA alone has a 30 percent cut to its budget, because, you know, Trump and Mick Mulvaney are in the pockets of fossil fuel companies, who are giving them millions of dollars of contributions in order to stop the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy economy.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments on Trump’s budget proposal.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I think what the American people understand is their one vote, their one voice, matters relatively little in a Congress which is dominated by big money, wealthy campaign contributors. The Koch brothers are going to spend some $400 million in the coming campaign. And you know what? This budget is the budget of the Koch brothers. It is the budget of the billionaire class. And the American people understand it.

This is a budget which will make it harder for our children to get a decent education, harder for working families to get the healthcare they desperately need, harder to protect the air that we breathe and the water we drink, and harder for the elderly to live out their retirement years with dignity and respect. This is not a budget, as candidate Donald Trump talked about, that takes on the political establishment. This is a budget of the political establishment. This is the Robin Hood principle in reverse. It is a budget that takes from the poor and gives to the very wealthy.

AMY GOODMAN: Pramila Jayapal, your response?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, I completely agree with him. Donald Trump campaigned as a populist. He is governing as a plutocrat. That’s what this budget is, is, as I said earlier, a love letter, on Valentine’s Day, to millionaires and billionaires.

And, you know, what offends me so much is: What does it say about working people, some of whom gave Trump their support because they thought that he was somehow going to help their kids or help them to put food on the table or a roof over their heads or retire with dignity or give their kids more opportunity? It says, “Sorry, we don’t care about you.” And it actually assigns judgment and blame to people who may be struggling. Just going back to SNAP for a second, this is a program where, on average, participants are in the program for seven to nine months. So, to say—and they’re getting, as I said, $1.40 per meal per person. This is not a situation that people try to be in, in order to fleece the government.

And all of this is literally to support the tax cuts for the richest corporations. Even if you look at his transportation infrastructure proposal, which, you know, he claimed was going to be this huge $1.5 trillion proposal, he’s only investing $200 billion of federal money into that, and he’s cutting almost the same amount, about $187 billion that he’s taking out of infrastructure projects. And so, this is about privatizing our roads and only building where people are going to make money off of roads. It means that if you have an infrastructure project, you know, in some community where there is no profit to be made from it, it’s not going to get built. And if you build those roads in certain communities where there’s a profit to be made, we’re literally starting a system where people will only be able to drive on roads if they have money. And it’s incredibly distressing to see.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you say more, Congressmember Jayapal, about what he is proposing in the budget around people in public housing having jobs?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Yes. He’s proposing billions of dollars of cuts, first of all, to the Department of Housing. So it’s a 50 percent cut to HUD. But then, on top of that, he’s saying that if you are in public housing and you are not working, that you would not be eligible for those benefits. He is taking away billions of dollars from Section 8 vouchers. And, you know, this is a time when now too many people are paying 60 percent of their income in housing. He’s taking away, as Bernie Sanders said, the ability for people to have any kind of shelter and heat, you know, various programs that allow people to have housing, first of all, but then also allow them to take on their utility bills, things like that. So, this is, you know, every city across—every major city across the country, but also some minor cities across the country are experiencing tremendous housing shortfalls. This budget is going to ensure that there are more people homeless, that there are more people without adequate, even temporary shelter, and more people without the utilities to actually survive hard, cold winters.

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