- David Cay JohnstonPulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, and founder and editor of DCReport.org, author of It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
President Trump is seeking $8.6 billion to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and an almost 5 percent increase in military spending. Meanwhile, Trump is calling for drastic cuts to domestic spending, including cutting $845 billion from Medicare spending over the next decade. Trump also wants to slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent and the Interior Department’s budget by 14 percent. We speak with David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, and founder and editor of DCReport.org.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the budget, the president’s budget—increases for the military, about 5 percent increase for the military; at the same time, dramatic decreases for social programs.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Your sense? You’ve been going through it.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Juan, this budget is budget lessons I learned, as Donald Trump learned, from dictator Kim. So, the first thing you do is you take care of your military. You pour every dollar you can into a military that is bigger than you need. And that’s your number one goal, to make sure that you have loyalty and stay in power.
Then what you do is you take the disabled and the poor on Medicare, and you cut close to a trillion dollars over the next 10 years out of care for them. You take SNAP, which provides nutrition to pregnant women, children and elderly people and the disabled. “Hey, let’s slash that!”
Education. There were all these students who were ripped off by for-profit colleges that cost four or five times what a community college did, and gave you a lousy education, and some of them went broke. “Make them pay every penny!” They, in fact, say it isn’t fair unless these students pay it back. So they’re taking the side of the bankers against the students.
Housing. Let’s cut money for housing, people who are disabled, people who are on aids, people who are poor. We’re going to cut that. And to New York and New Jersey, by saying, “We are not going to fund the replacement of the 110-year-old tunnel,” through which thousands of commuters and people traveling up and down the East Coast travel every day, tunnels owned by the federal government’s Amtrak—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tunnels across the Hudson River.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Under the Hudson River—Donald Trump’s message to New York and New Jersey: “Drop dead.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, you mentioned education. It’s not only those who are delinquent in their loans, but also he proposes to eliminate federal subsidies for student loan interest and also to eliminate the debt forgiveness for those students who either work for the government for 10 years or work for a nonprofit, that they would be forgiven their loans—he wants to get of that, as well.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, why would you want people to do any kind of service for the government except join the military? I mean, that’s the message Donald Trump is sending us. He is not investing in the future. And one of the things I haven’t heard anybody talk about is, he is continuing to go after basic science. More than half the economic growth in America since World War II is because of investments that we made in basic science. Only governments fund basic science, and, in a large degree, for many decades, it was the U.S. that did so. And if you don’t fund basic science, you know, you don’t end up with this instrument. Companies built it, but they used the basic science research taxpayers paid for. And—
AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about like the iPhone.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: The iPhone or any—
AMY GOODMAN: Cellphone.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Or cellphone, GPS, all sorts of things, computers, streaming movies—all grow out of research funded by the federal government, some of it before World War II. And this budget is basically an attack on middle-class people and poor people, and it is designed to help the people like Donald Trump, people who have a lot of income, live a much better life. And by “a lot of income,” I don’t mean the bottom of the 1 percent. That’s two-income career couples who have professional jobs and are mostly in their fifties and sixties. I mean people who clip coupons and collect dividends and own very large businesses.
AMY GOODMAN: In his new budget, President Trump is calling for drastic cuts to domestic spending, including cutting $845 billion dollars from Medicare spending over the next decade. On Monday, Congressmember Ilhan Omar retweeted a short video of Trump’s campaign promises on Medicare and Social Security.
DONALD TRUMP: I’ll save Social Security. I’ll save Medicare. Ben Carson wants to get rid of Medicare. You can’t get rid of Medicare. You know, Medicare is a program that works. … Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security. They want to do it on Medicare. They want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that. And it’s not fair to the people, that have been paying in for years, and now, all of a sudden, they want to be cut. … Don’t get rid of Medicare. You can’t do that. People love Medicare, and it’s unfair to them. I’m going to fix it, make it better, but I’m not going to cut it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Trump has proposed cutting $845 billion from Medicare spending over the next decade. That was his campaign ad.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: You know, Donald once told me, “Healthcare should be like the roads: When you need it, you just use it.” Now he’s gone to the Republican position of “If you’re not well-to-do, then you don’t deserve healthcare.” And remember Congressman Grayson was mocked and, I think, maybe censured by the Republicans in the House when he said the Republican tax plan is “If you get sick, die quickly.” Well, now you’re seeing that Donald Trump is not interested in what he said. He goes back on everything he said. Where is his infrastructure bill he promised out of the box? Where is that 10 percent tax cut for the middle class he promised last October? Everything he says is just transactional. If it gets him a vote today, that’s fine, and tomorrow he’ll turn around and stab you in the back.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But now, this budget has very little chance of—or, I should say, zero chance—
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Zero chance.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Zero chance of passing in the Congress. He couldn’t get cuts like this through a Republican-controlled Congress. Now, with the Democrats in control of the House, what do you expect to happen?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: But what’s important here, Juan, is a budget is a statement of values. And Donald Trump has revealed his values. He has the values of a dictator. That’s why I said budget lessons from dictator Kim. And all of his claims about “I love the cops,” and then he took away their ability to take as a tax deduction buying uniforms and guns and dry cleaning and paying union dues; “I love the students,” and he wants to take away the subsidized loans and make people who got for-profit college educations that failed—colleges that failed—to make them pay. Donald Trump has no regard for anyone but himself. And so long as we treat him as if he’s a serious person who has real policies, we’re going to get nowhere. What we need to do is mock him and make fun of him. He’s not very smart, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Eight billion dollars and more, actually—it’s considerably more than that—for the wall—
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —that he originally asked $5—what—$5 billion, $5.6 billion for.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: And not from Mexico, either.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain both the military budget and the wall, and then the massive cutbacks for social programs throughout the United States.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, essentially, what Trump is trying to do is cut social welfare programs everywhere he can, to put more money into the broader national security budget, which is both the military and the border issues. He’s never going to get his wall, beyond the fact that you physically can’t build it in some places. And it’s a terrible symbol to America, that completely undoes our position in the world, to pursue this. But, you know, as long as he listens to Fox News and to Ann Coulter, then he’s going to continue to do these things. He’s not trying to expand his base. He’s not trying to win over more people. Because he doesn’t know how to do that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about also the projections of his budget, of 3 percent growth for the next 10 years—
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —in the United States, as if there will never be—or at least for the next 10 years. We’ve already had 10 years of solid growth. He wants another 10 years with no recession.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, the economy is already slowing down. And 10 years into this market, which began under President Obama, you would expect it, at this point, to begin to slow down. So, we only saw 20,000 jobs last month. You know, Trump goes around talking about “I have the biggest employment in American history.” That’s not the measure. Job growth is a good measure. Job growth has been about 20 percent lower under Trump than under Obama since the economy turned around. Tax revenues in the last 90-day period were 2 percent lower, which goes right to the heart of how this tax cut for the rich is not paying for itself. And, you know, little-known fact: Donald Trump’s tax law gave 8-year loans at zero interest to all the multinational companies that had siphoned profits out of the country, and it also gave them a discount. So, I’ve written about how Apple alone—just Apple—will turn a $120 billion profit off the Trump tax law, $120 billion. DCReport, we’ve reported on that, and I’ve written about it for other publications.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you’ve written about Donald Trump in two books, his biography and your more recent book. In 2000, he wrote The America We Deserve. He wrote, “I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by health care expenses. We must not allow citizens with medical problems to go untreated because of financial problems or red tape. The Canadian plan also helps Canadians live longer and healthier than America. We need, as a nation, to reexamine the single-payer plan, as many individual states are doing,” he said.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Yeah, well, that made him look good back then. Today he wants to look good with a different group of people. Donald has no principles, except “I’m a winner!” There is nothing else in his life. And we need to not treat him as if he’s a serious policy person. He is not. He doesn’t understand any of these things that are around, and he will flip on a dime from A to B, from black to white, from yes to no.
AMY GOODMAN: Which means he could flip back.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: He could.
AMY GOODMAN: If the climate were such that.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: He could. And we should be very careful and watching him in the 2020 election, where, if he wins, we’re in deep trouble as a country. And if he loses and there is no prosecution of him for the many crimes he’s committed, he will go around the rest of his life fomenting violence against the United States and its people, because he’ll say, “I was ripped off. I should stay in the White House.”
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to Nancy Pelosi saying impeachment off the table?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Absolutely, because there’s no votes to convict him. And why would you want to strengthen him by impeaching him, and work up people who don’t like that? Just use investigations to expose him—drip, drip, drip—until the next election, and then you run against a weak candidate. Nancy is a general in strategy. Donald Trump isn’t even a buck private.
AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. He’s been reporting on Donald Trump since the 1980s. His most recent book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
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