- David Cay JohnstonPulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. He teaches at Syracuse University College of Law. His most recent book is titled It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
President Trump unveiled his 2021 budget request Monday, proposing massive cuts to Medicaid and food stamps while increasing spending on the military and his border wall. The $4.8 trillion budget would slash Environmental Protection Agency spending by more than a quarter while allocating $18 billion for Trump’s newly established Space Force. Trump is also requesting billions more for nuclear weapons, including a new submarine-launched nuclear warhead. Experts and Democratic lawmakers warn that increasing the nuclear stockpile will increase the likelihood of nuclear war and defy international agreements. Democrats are expected to reject the budget. We speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston. “If you want endless wars, dirty air, and you think that the poor and hungry in America are getting too good of a deal, this is a budget for you,” he says.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump unveiled his 2021 budget request Monday, proposing massive cuts to Medicaid and food stamps while increasing spending on the military and his border wall. The $4.8 trillion budget would slash Environmental Protection Agency spending by more than a quarter while allocating $18 billion for Trumps’s newly established Space Force. Trump is also requesting billions more for nuclear weapons, including a new submarine-launched nuclear warhead. Experts and Democratic lawmakers warn that increasing the nuclear stockpile will increase the likelihood of nuclear war and defy international agreements.
AMY GOODMAN: Democrats are expected to reject the budget, which proposes steep cuts to global health programs and eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program that cancels the student debts of public workers after they’ve made 10 years of payments. This is the fourth time Trump has tried to end the program. It also cuts $182 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, in part by significantly increasing requirements for Americans receiving food stamps. Congressmember Barbara Lee tweeted Monday, “Trump’s immoral budget is full of reckless and cruel cuts to health care, education, housing, basic food assistance and more. All while funneling billions to a xenophobic boarder wall. Congress must and will reject it,” she tweeted.
Well, for more, we go to Rochester, New York, where we’re joined by journalist David Cay Johnston, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting.
David, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of this unprecedented budget, with almost $50 billion or so going to nuclear weapons, more nuclear weapons, with the border wall, $2 billion, and these devastating cuts to Medicaid and food stamps?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Amy, if you want endless wars, dirty air, and you think that the poor and hungry in America are getting too good of a deal, this is a budget for you. That’s exactly what this budget is about. Donald Trump, in his inaugural address, said he would be the champion of the forgotten man. Everything he did would be about the forgotten man. Well, he forgot about the forgotten man the minute he walked off the dais.
In this budget, he proposes not only all this additional money for nuclear weapons and for the border wall, but he wants to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by more than a fourth. He wants to cut the budget of the Army Corps of Engineers by more than a fifth. And that matters because the dike and levee system that was built in the United States in the heartland of the country, and many of the dams and other facilities that the Army Corps is responsible for, is falling apart, and it’s proving inadequate because of climate disruption. We’ve had these massive floods along these dike systems. To cut the budget for that is just nuts, unless you want to, of course, abandon farming in large parts of the center of the United States.
But going after food assistance is absolutely displaying what is really going on here. Donald Trump said he was going to drain the swamp. He has turned Washington into a paradise for the Wall Street swamp monsters that he told voters he was going to go after. And it’s very clear that his idea of draining the swamp is getting rid of hard-working, serious people who are trying to make America better, and replacing them with people who want to mine the economy and extract money from those down below, because lots of billionaires feel they don’t have enough money.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David, I want to ask you about the tax cut proposal of Trump’s. We’re seeing this movie repeatedly now over the last 50, 60 years of American history. The Reagan administration cut taxes and created massive deficits, that then, when Bill Clinton finally came into office, he was immediately hit: “You’ve got to do something about the deficit.” Then, when George W. Bush was in office, he cut the taxes dramatically, and of course we had the financial meltdown that led to, when President Obama came in, having again to deal with this massive deficit. And now we’re seeing Trump, the Trump administration and the current Republicans in Congress, doing the same thing: massive cuts. And now he wants to extend certain tax cuts in this proposal. Could you talk about that?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, what Trump is proposing to do is provide a little sop to middle-class families by increasing the child tax credit, extending it into the future when it’s scheduled to expire, but continuing his fundamental policy, which is massive tax cuts for people at the very top, people with multimillion-dollar annual incomes. The top one-in-a-thousand households have incomes of over $2 million a year. And we have people in America, like Mike Bloomberg, who make multiple billions of annual income.
And he’s proposing that we can afford all of this because he’s projecting what my children refer to as “happy-go-magicland thinking” about the budget. Each year that Trump has been in office, the three years he’s been in office, economic growth has gone from here to here to here. It is slowing down. But he projects that it’s going to like this, which is just not going to happen. Nobody believes that. But by claiming it will go like this, here’s what he does. He says the federal budget deficit, of roughly a trillion dollars a year now — and remember, Trump told us he would pay off the federal debt if he got eight years — by projecting this economic growth that nobody sees happening, and when it’s actually declining, he’s able to argue that the federal budget deficits are going to go down. All the projections show they’re going to go like this, by everybody outside the administration. So, as my children said when they were little, happy-go-magicland thinking.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to President Trump speaking Monday about increasing spending on nuclear weapons.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And we’re taking good care of our military. We’re increasing spending on our nuclear program, because we have no choice, because of what China is doing, what Russia is doing, in particular. And so we have a very big number in for that. Now, at the same time, Russia and China both want to negotiate with us to stop this craziness of spending billions and billions of dollars on nuclear weapons. But the only way — until we have that agreement, the only thing I can do is create by far the strongest nuclear force anywhere in the world, which, as you know, over the last three years we very much upgraded our nuclear. But we’re buying new — we have the superfast missiles, tremendous number of the superfast. We call them superfast.
AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Trump is just out in space here. I mean, this is like a lot of things Donald says in the 32 years almost that I’ve known him. You know, he just makes stuff up. And while there are little pieces of truth in there, this is just all nonsense. We have more than enough nuclear capacity to kill everybody on the planet repeatedly. We have more than enough for mutually assured destruction, which of course goes by the acronym ”MAD,” because it’s meaningful. And this is Trump simply not understanding the world. The man has no real capacity to understand things. You know, he claims to be the world’s greatest expert on at least 23 subjects. But as various people in the White House have leaked out, when he’s confronted with being asked something, he turns out to know absolutely nothing. By the way, he’s very well parodied in a new HBO show called Avenue 5, a takeoff on Trump’s claim that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and nothing would happen to him.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking of being out in space, he’s also promising, as he cuts food to poor children, $18 billion for a new Space Force.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Yeah. Do we want to militarize space? I mean, this is just an incredibly nutty idea. We have a United States Air Force that is perfectly capable of dealing with our programs along with NASA. Now, if we want to spend more money to go explore the heavens, I personally am in favor of that. I think it would lead to a lot of great scientific research. It has a cost to it, though, and you’ve got to bear the cost.
And what Trump wants to do is a free lunch. He wants to say to the richest people in America, “We’re going to lower your taxes. We’re going to allow big corporations to earn huge taxes — huge profits and pay no taxes. And then we’re going to spend all this additional money on these things which are discretionary: We can choose to do them or not do them.” And at the same time, we’re going to say to children and families that are going to food pantries and food kitchens constantly, you know, “You’ve got too much.” I mean, it’s really a remarkable position. And it’s very clear the Republican Party policies that Donald Trump is reflecting here boil down to this: The reason the American economy isn’t doing better is the rich don’t have enough, and the way to get more to the rich is to take it from the poor, the disabled, from children, from the elderly — that is, from those people who have little capacity to fight back.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David, this whole issue of, once again, the president attempting to cut this program that provides loan forgiveness for people who do public service after they graduate from college? I mean, the program has had lots of criticism about how difficult it is, even as it exists right now, for folks to qualify, but this whole idea of cutting the ability of people to reduce their student debt if they do government service is the exact opposite of what several of the Democratic candidates — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others — are saying about forgiving student debt and trying to find a way to get young people out from under a lifetime of servitude to their student loans.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Yeah. Juan, I know people who have lots of gray in their hair who are still paying off their student loans. I was lucky enough to go to college when it was free. In today’s money, I paid $120 a year in 2020 dollars to go to college back in the '60s. The real debate we need to be having is: What level of education do we need to have to have a stable and prosperous society? If it's only eighth grade education, then let’s get rid of high school. If it’s college as the norm and graduate school for lots of people, then let’s invest in that. Education is an investment in the future of the country.
And what Trump is really doing here is not only helping the bankers, who he told everyone he was going to rein in and has never done that, but he is also telling us, “You know, don’t think about the future. Think about right now. What you need is more now. Never mind what’s going to happen to your children, your grandchildren” — if you’re my age. “Let’s focus on right now.” And this is not a policy to make our democracy endure. And, of course, I’ve said many times, Donald Trump doesn’t want our democracy to endure. He wants to be King Donald, and he wants his daughter to become Empress Ivanka I.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Cay Johnston, we’re going to leave it there for now, but of course we’ll continue to cover this as it goes to Congress. David Cay Johnston is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. His recent piece is headlined “Trump’s Ho-Hum Economy in Three Graphs.” He teaches at Syracuse University College of Law. His most recent book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
When we come back, we go to New Hampshire, where polls have opened in the nation’s first presidential primary. Stay with us.