Trump’s War Budget Slashes Support for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid

February 13, 2020

Trump promised he would not touch Social Security and Medicare. He lied. Now we have deficit spending with no social benefits and Democrats fooled into a compromise that allowed the military budget to soar.

Trump promised he would not touch Social Security and Medicare. He lied. Now we have deficit spending with no social benefits and Democrats fooled into a compromise that allowed the military budget to soar.


WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 10: Copies of President Trump's FY2021 budget are shown after being delivered to the House Budget Committee, on February 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you all with us. Trump announced a $4.8 trillion budget for the fiscal year starting October the 1st. It is a budget that only marginally increases spending for the military because they don’t have to, by a lot, because he and Congress did that last July. But it does increase Homeland Security and gets his wal, while slashing programs like children’s health insurance, Medicaid. Even though he promised otherwise in his State of the Union speech, his budget attacks and cuts Medicare and Social Security.

Donald Trump: We will always protect your Medicare, and we will always protect your Social Security, always.

Marc Steiner: On top of that, deficit spending despite his promises, soars adding $1.9 trillion to our deficits over 10 years. Deficits not only because of increased spending, but because he slashed taxes for the wealthy, and in a bone to the voters, the middle-class. Less revenue or military spending equals deficits without lifting the lives of our fellow citizens. We’re joined by Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works. Alex, welcome. Good to have you with us.

Alex Lawson: Thanks for having me.

Marc Steiner: And of course, Bill Black is an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He’s a white-collar criminologist, former financial regulator, and author of one of my favorite titles, law books of all time, The Best Way To Rob A Bank Is To Own One, and of course, a regular contributor here at Real News. Bill, welcome back.

Bill Black: Thank you.

Marc Steiner: Let’s just begin to talk a bit and throw this to you first Bill. It’s just, I really want to explain something here. You and I in the past have talked about deficits, right?

Bill Black: Right.

Marc Steiner: Let’s listen to, to your friend Donald Trump for just a moment and talk about deficits and debt and what they really mean.

Donald Trump: You know, I’m the King of debt. I understand debt better than probably anybody on the … It’s literally first grade business. It’s so simple. Hundreds of billions of dollars of money, and let’s call it tax money could come from other countries when we stop them from ripping us off. So, you wouldn’t have to play around with Medicaid and Medicare and things that really are dear to people’s hearts. If you look at some of these agencies, how big and fat they are, you can cut and have them run better than they’re running right now. When I heard we were going to Iraq, somebody said, “Oh, we’re going to the oil.” I said, “Huh, that makes sense.” That’s smart. $15 trillion. That does a lot to solve our deficit problem, doesn’t it? I’d like to pay off debt. I’d like to-

Speaker 5: We got a lot of it.

Donald Trump: Look at a lot of this and pay interest.

Speaker 5: Well, we got a lot of it.

Donald Trump: We dim and we’re going to start reducing costs now that we took care of our military.

Marc Steiner: That’s Donald Trump trying to explain deficits and debts over the last nine years, Bill. Talk a bit about, I mean one of the things we’ve talked about over the time together is that you don’t necessarily see deficits as a bad thing, but talk about the comparison between which you’re talking about were deficits and what he’s doing.

Bill Black: All right. The thing that’s consistent in all of those vignettes is that Trump knows absolutely nothing about business, absolutely nothing about economics, absolutely nothing about deficits. He was mushing together a whole bunch of different things. He knows a little bit about owing money to people because he owes tremendous amounts of money and he stiffs them. He stiffs the banks. He stiffs the workers, et cetera, et cetera. He files for bankruptcy, and eventually the bankers cut you off in those circumstances if you don’t pay your debt, and that’s why we’ve done series in the past that the only entity that will loan to him still is arguably the most corrupt bank in the world, Deutsche Bank. That’s his aspect of finances. Then he goes through a bunch of things, including trade that have nothing to do with the deficits, in terms of budget. Then he goes through this idea, hey, if we just stole other people’s property, right, then we’d have a lot more property and we’d be richer.

We steal their oil, except that A, violates all the rules of war and B, people tend to fight back and you end up spending billions, indeed trillions of dollars and losing hundreds of thousands of lives. This is just all the stupidity, the lack of care about humans, unwillingness to read a briefing paper if it’s longer than literally one paragraph. What is different is federal deficits. When you have a sovereign currency like the United States, have with a broad range, not very much to do with producing inflation. We’ve seen that of course. Trump has run very, very large deficits. Unemployment has been, in fact, at historically low levels and inflation hasn’t even reached the tiny amount that the Federal Reserve Watts says makes the economy work better. So, the inflation isn’t the problem. The deficit per se isn’t the problem.

The problem is twofold. One, Trump doesn’t spend things where we should be spending things, like on helping poor people, like on building infrastructure, like on dealing with climate disruption and such. He does spend money stupidly, on things like his wall and such. That isn’t a deficit question. That is a stupidity question. We can’t afford to do dumb things with real resources. When we create his wall, we absolutely waste resources and that’s a dumb thing that we should stop.

Marc Steiner: When you look at this, and Alex let me bring you in here. I mean when you look at this, what he just did here, increasing military spending by just 0.3% to $740.5 billion, while lowering the non-defense budget by 5% to $590 billion. The interesting part here to me is that when he does this and makes this horrible slashing of things, is that, and we’ll get into that in a moment, is that what we forget about, is that last July we increased the military budget more than it has been since the Vietnam and Korean war. The Democrats signed on to that because they said he wasn’t going to cut social services. He wasn’t going to cut these programs and it wasn’t going to cut social security. But in fact that’s what he’s done. They got hoodwinked into an old budget to increase military spending. Now they’re stuck with this new budget. I mean, there’s a history of why this is happening this way as well, that I think is important to remember. Give us your perception of this.

Alex Lawson: I think that the president’s budget, which is a statement of his values, is really clear. It’s pandering to defense contractors and Wall Street billionaires. It has, it basically decimates Medicaid, almost $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, the largest provider of longterm care in this country. It cuts tens of billions of dollars out of Social Security, around three quarters of $1 trillion out of Medicare. The list of programs that have cuts that would be existential, goes on and on. Those are all aimed at satisfying his two criteria or two-pronged criteria. They have to be both stupid and cruel. Though, it has to be cruel in that it really hurts people.

Marc Steiner: Right.

Alex Lawson: But it has to be stupid because supposedly it has something to do with the deficit. But all of these cuts are penny wise, pound foolish. They would actually cost way more money in the long run or in social securities case, have absolutely nothing to do with the deficit. What we’re looking at is why the congressional Democrats ever bargain in good faith with the congressional Republicans is beyond me. But I wouldn’t say that the president’s budget is separate from that conversation in many respects. But it definitely shows you exactly where the Republican Party’s vision is. It’s why Donald Trump goes out of his way to lie about what he actually proposes. In the days before releasing it, he says he’s not going to cut Social Security and Medicare as you noted. But he does exactly that.

Marc Steiner: This is what he had to say at Davos.

Speaker 7: Entitlements ever be on your plate?

Donald Trump: At some point they will be. It’ll be toward the end of the year. The growth is going to be incredible, and at the right time we will take a look at that. You know that’s actually the easiest of all things, if you look because it’s such a [crosstalk 00:08:53].

Speaker 7: But you’re willing to do some of the things that you said you wouldn’t do in the past though in terms of Medicare.

Donald Trump: We’re got to look. We also have assets that we never had. I mean we never had growth like-

Marc Steiner: Such a disingenuous human being at best. I mean, when we say that the … That just cues me, ask you both this question is what you just said Alex, but when we say that what happened last July, I mean it seems to me in many ways the Democrats were, some of them, a lot of most progressive Democrats were complicit in this because they thought they had a deal, that will give you all this money for the military, which they shouldn’t have done the first place, many people would argue, as long as you don’t cut this. I mean, they were set up and now we are facing, this battle is going to take place in the midst of an election, where I could see them shutting down government, other things happening to battle over this budget. I mean this budget is going to play out in 2020, which is going to be a very tense and tight election. Who wants to go? Bill, you want to jump in this first and go to Alex?

Bill Black: Okay, so first it’s of course a reminder of why appeasement strategies when you’re dealing with dishonest, awful, evil people never work. As Churchill said, “The idea is you feed the crocodile other people, hoping that you know that he’ll get too full and won’t eat you at the end of the process.” Well guess what? He’ll get around to you eventually in these circumstances. So yes, the whole Biden thing about I can work with people is just a soccer strategy in these circumstances when people aren’t honest that you’re bargaining with. Then they take what you give the first time and they take the second time. They do. From their view, you’re not reasonable. You’re a chump, and they love to take advantage of chumps. Second point, this is a political gift to Democrats if they take it.

Marc Steiner: If they take it.

Bill Black: If they take it, right, and then run with it because this is horrific stuff, absolutely indefensible. The Democrats need to be talking about this every day. But the third thing is it really displays Trump’s true base, right? The base that the people usually talk about are the faces at his MAGA rallies, right? They’re the faces of people who are typically don’t have all that much money, all that much education, and they’re screaming, ranting and raving. That is a base and it’s critical to his ability to win elections. But the real base of Donald Trump is the absolute sleaziest CEOs in the world, primarily Americans, but not exclusively Americans. That’s why the tax cut was his top priority, and why the tax cut was unbelievably weighted towards the wealthiest people. There’s an interesting Pew study of the really, really rich people, and they’re different than normal people. The deficits really, supposedly drive them crazy.

But what really, really drive them crazy is the idea of anybody poor getting money, right? They hate the entitlement programs and such. They in particular, they hate Medicaid because that goes to poorer people and food stamps because that goes to poorer people and such. Therefore, it is no coincidence they, after first doing the massive payoff to that base, the kleptocratic wealthy, Trump is then following through with their greatest desires, which is a combination of screwing the poor but also taking all the protections away, like the EPA. So, it’s no surprise that he’s absolutely destroying the ability of the EPA, not just now, but for all time, is his goal, to protect the public.

Marc Steiner: When you saw that the EPA and Alex, when you talked about the EPA, they cut the EPA by 26.5%, Health and Human Services by 9%, education 8%, interior 13.4%, so he can drill more oil wherever he wants to. House and Urban Development goes down by 15.2%. State Department and AID gets slashed to the bone with 22%. What’s the response to this and what happens to Social Security, which you spend your life working on, your work working on? What is the political response?

Alex Lawson: I think that there is a key player in this who is incredibly important and also incredibly dishonest. That’s the corporate media. I actually will say that many Democrats take the fact that Donald Trump is targeting Social Security and Medicare so squarely, and he needs seniors to win elections. Republicans need seniors to win elections, and his policies are disastrous for seniors. But if the media is just telling, repeating Donald Trump’s lies, then the people will not know actually what he’s doing. This is not theoretical. Donald Trump tweeted, my budget is not going to cut Social Security and Medicare, basically. He just stated that, and he released a budget that decimates those programs and the AP reported it in the headline and in the tweet as his budget basically left Social Security and Medicare alone. In the story it details the cuts, but you do a quick new search right now, and guess what they actually copied as it went around the country? The headline.

It seems like the media is reporting basically, press releases, except now Donald Trump just tweets them directly to them. Instead of taking five minutes to look at the tables in the back and actually tell the American people what Donald Trump is actually doing. So, without independent media voices getting the truth out there, unfortunately too many of the American people don’t actually know that Donald Trump is literally right now, in implementing a Social Security rule alongside his budget, alongside the Medicaid block granting, reaching his hand into our pockets and stealing our earned benefits, all for the benefit of his billionaire paymasters on Wall Street, who want the money. They’re greedy. They want the money. But I also agree with Bill that there is a bit of a sadism and it as well. They actually want these policies to be cruel. The cruelty is part of the point of them.

Marc Steiner: So just quickly, Alex talk a bit about exactly what he’s done to Social Security and Medicare.

Alex Lawson: In the assault on both Social Security and Medicare is actually on multiple fronts and Medicaid as well. Medicaid is the largest provider of longterm care in this country. For millions of Americans it actually doesn’t matter. For a senior in a nursing home, they don’t care if it’s Medicaid paying for it or if it’s Medicare or which piece the different program covers. Medicaid covers this. Medicare covers that. If you cut $1 trillion out of Medicaid and then you, a senior gets thrown out of their nursing home, they don’t care if it’s one program or the other. It’s the totality of the attacks on the entire system. With Social Security, you’re seeing a bunch of different ways of going at it.

The union-busting inside to decimate the workforce, at the same time as continually slashing the budget, which is what we see in the budget, as well as restricting … They actually put in new rules, which we know exactly what they do because Ronald Reagan also put them in, and it’s to create a bureaucracy that’s so complex that people can’t access their benefits and they lose them. People who are currently have the benefits lose those. It’s a full-fledged assault on our Social Security system. Medicaid, it’s just a total destruction of it. Medicare, they’re trying to cut it to the bone and actually transfer people from the traditional Medicare side over to what are called Medicare Advantage, which are just private insurance companies. So, across the entire system, what you see is a push to move people from systems that work, into systems that profit a tiny sliver of billionaires on Wall Street.

If they can’t prioritize something like Social Security, if they don’t think that’s politically feasible, they just try to destroy the system, so that people lose faith in it, and actually will allow a political change that cuts benefits or decimates the system even further.

Marc Steiner: I’m going to conclude with this. I mean, it’s when you even look at the Wall Street Journal, they wrote about this today saying that the proposals cut $4.4 Trillion over a decade. $2 trillion come from mandatory spending programs, but they can ramp up the money, almost $1.5 trillion over the next two years to push up the Pentagon and build the wall and do the rest. In those customers, people forget is also Veterans Administration’s inside those cuts. What is the political response? Let’s talk a bit about that just before we have to close. Bill, I’ll let you start. I mean because this is, the Democrats seem to me often stumble over themselves, at least the establishment does to respond and not respond, a lot of these things just to go when they’ve been given a golden age to talk to the American people with.

Bill Black: Right, Right now there is no real democratic leader. You could see during some of the impeachment stuff, when you actually had someone who had a leadership position and an opportunity to think strategically and think about how to make a presentation to the public. They’re actually not as horrific as they usually are when you see them in these five minute increments at hearings, where it’s often farcical. This is something that the billionaires and millionaires, instead of the ads that they’re doing can really hammer on if they want to be useful. They can go through and present those tables that he was just talking about and show, Hey, he said, there are no cuts here. This is where the cuts actually are, and here’s what Medicaid is and this is what it’s going to be your life. But not just tables. Do what Trump did with that ad in the Superbowl. One black woman-

Marc Steiner: Oh yes, that ad.

Bill Black: [crosstalk 00:19:57] type of thing. We as human beings, we respond to narrative, to stories, to empathy about individuals. Think of it that way. Think of the, there are literally millions of people, actually there are literally tens of millions of people that will suffer really severe harm. Tell the stories.

Marc Steiner: Bill, that is so critical what you just said to learn that lesson. Alex, a very quick thought before we finish.

Alex Lawson: I just would say that if you want to see, I think really perfect messaging on this, if you look at the ads that Bernie Sanders was running in Iowa, right at the end of Iowa, that we’re teeing up Trump on Social Security and Medicare, and counter posing Bernie Sanders, decades-long championing of these programs, not just defending from cuts but working to expand the programs against Donald Trump’s attacks on these programs. That is a political message that wins and is breaking through, and is easy for the American people to see whose side, which politician is on. Donald Trump wants to cut your Social Security. Bernie Sanders wants to expand your social security. That kind of messaging breaks through.

Bill Black: I also want to see ads with US soldiers, and the aid that is critical to them as well, a counterpunch to their gut.

Marc Steiner: Absolutely. Well, let’s say that they listened to us. Alex Lawson, Bill Black. Thank you both so much. We’ll pick up on this together again soon. Appreciate your time.

Bill Black: Thank you.

Alex Lawson: Thanks.

Marc Steiner: Folks, we will stay on this. Our future’s at stake. I’m Marc Steiner for the Real News Network. Thank you for joining us. Take care.