SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The America First budget blueprint of President Donald Trump released earlier this month outlines eliminations of two hundred federal programs including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities and The Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal aid to the poor. It also eliminates practically all programs having anything to do with climate change whether the EPA or in other departments.
A recent article in the publication titled In These Times titled, “The Rightwing Machine Behind the Curtain” details how Trump’s budget is based on a blueprint that the Heritage Foundation prepared last year. Anderson goes on to describe the Heritage Foundation’s history and role in Republican administrations, both on the state and federal level.
Joining us now to talk about his article on the Heritage Foundation’s role in our national budget and much more is Theo Anderson. He’s a staff writer for In These Times since 2010. He has a PhD in Modern U.S. History from Yale.
Thanks so much for joining us, Theo.
THEO ANDERSON: Thank you. Good to be here.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Theo, let’s start with Trump’s draft budget and the Heritage Foundation’s blueprint. How much of the Heritage Foundation’s blueprint in the Trump’s budget proposal?
THEO ANDERSON: Well, it’s virtually identical in many ways, especially in the realm of environmental cuts. The budget blueprint that Heritage put out last year calls for the elimination of almost every environmental or green energy program, it calls for some of the well-known cuts to arts programs.
One of the key people at the Heritage Foundation, one of the Directors of Economic Policy Institute there, and Chief Economic Advisor to Trump, and was one of the key people who actually wrote the draft of the budget. So, there are tight connections between the Trump administration and the .
SHARMINI PERIES: Now one of the things that Trump has repeatedly promised but, which we haven't' really seen in the budget, at least not spelled out, is the promise of an investment of $1 billion in infrastructure. Presumably believe it is not a part of what Heritage Foundation's blueprint proposed. Is that correct?
THEO ANDERSON: No, there is certainly no call for infrastructure investment in the budget blueprint put out by Heritage. It's all about cuts. It's basically cutting about a trillion dollars, to make way for defense cuts. They do call for some defense cuts in the budget blueprint as well, but that's only to take that money and put it into different defense programs that they think are more effective. So overall there's no calls for defense cuts. But in virtually every other realm they're calling for cuts. But, no call for infrastructure spending.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, what will Trump do? This is something he promised in that joint congressional address in which he said there's going to be such a boost. And even in his campaign he talked about rebuilding America with a huge billion-dollar investment. Will he drop this from the budget? Or will he find some way to raise the money for this kind of infrastructure project?
THEO ANDERSON: I mean, who knows? I think he'll do as he does with most things and pretend he didn't say it. Or he will do infrastructure spending that his base really likes. Maybe some roads and bridges and things like that, sort of the old-school infrastructure spending. But nothing like he promised, I don't think that's on the horizon. Mostly just trying to ignore that promise and also to make some investments here and there that play to his base.
SHARMINI PERIES: Okay, let's just move to the connection between the Heritage Foundation and the Trump administration -- How deep is the Heritage Foundation's ties to Trump?
THEO ANDERSON: Well, the Heritage Foundation itself has claimed that there are dozens of members of its staff on the Trump transition. So, it's very extensive. I don't think there's a precise number. You look at people like Stephen Moore, he appears on a lot of talk shows. He's out there quite a bit. He's a Heritage staff member and he's also a key part of the Trump transition team.
So basically, the Heritage Foundation, as I go into the article, it's very skilled but promoting this idea of economic freedom, and getting government regulations off of our backs, and getting government out of our lives. That's not so much what Trump's more populist agenda was all about. But you can really see the influence there in terms of the libertarian turn that his actual administration, at least, as we know it so far, has taken.
It's very much about what they call economic freedom. Paul Ryan's idea on healthcare, get government out of our healthcare and give people the freedom to buy the insurance that they can't afford. It's there, both in terms of the staffing and it's there in terms of the ideology. It's just pervasive through the Trump administration.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Theo, your article outlines a long history and long-term thinking of the Heritage Foundation. Give us a brief history of the foundation; it's ties to Republican administrations and where this foundation all came from.
THEO ANDERSON: Okay. Just to go briefly into some context that didn't make it into the article. In the 1970s, during the Nixon administration, the conservatives, especially business conservatives, were really concerned about the rise of the bureaucratic state, the administrative state, as Stephen Bannon recently called it. Nixon was a Republican, but in some ways, is very friendly to regulation. The Environmental Protection Agency was founded during his administration. So, in the mid 1970s there's a strong push to create institutions that will revolt against the administration state, make the case against it.
The Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973 along with several other institutions that have become key to the conservative movement in the mid 1970s, like the Cato Institute. The American Legislative Exchange Council was founded in 1973 as well. So, they grew up in this atmosphere of a conservative revolt against the regulatory state.
The other key that's going on that I mention in the article, is really demobilization and galvanization of evangelical Christians who are concerned about the rise of government in their own way. They're concerned that governments telling them what to do in their institutions. So, there's a marriage between the business and the religious conservatives.
In the 1970s the Heritage is really key to, not so much in the 1970s, because it's not so influential at that point, but through the '80s and then, as I mention in the article, in about 2009, 2010 it really comes into its own and the revolt against Obamacare. So, it's been, off and on, a key player in the although … under the radar until recently when its involvement with the Trump budget has brought it to the fore and made those connections more well known.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And what is the overall vision of the Heritage Foundation for America?
THEO ANDERSON: Well, I go into this in the article, you can see what the vision is if you look at the state level. I mentioned that ALEC — American Legislative Exchange Council — was founded at the same time. The seed money was given by the same person, Joseph Coors, the beer baron, so, it’s a very aggressive tax-cutting and regulatory slashing agenda. The most famous example we have right now is in Kansas where Sam Brownback decided to make an experiment of the state by slashing taxes and reducing government as much as possible. And he thought that that would result in a flourishing of economic growth. That hasn’t happened. The state is in terrible right now with its budget deficit.
But it’s basically the ALEC agenda of crushing unions, lowering wages, reducing government as much as possible and cutting taxes, and friendliness to corporate agendas. That’s the Heritage Agenda in a nutshell.
Stephen Bannon put it most starkly when he said it was about the destruction of the administrative state. And that doesn’t come out of nowhere. That’s basically what the Heritage Foundation is about — dismantling, basically, federal agencies, federal protection of the environment, as I mentioned, but also for workers. So, we can see it going on at the state level and now they’re trying to take that agenda to the Federal level. That is basically my point.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. I’m speaking with Theo Anderson. He has got a new article out in In These Times, titled. “The Rightwing Machine Behind the Curtain”. And I thank you so much for joining us today, Theo.
THEO ANDERSON: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.