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Preparing for war with largest peacetime military budget paid for with devastating cuts to the poor, ending environmental regulation, destroying retirement and healthcare. Do divided Democrats have an answer? Lindsay Koshgarian of IPS analyzes the proposal

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.

Trump’s budget dropped on the doorstep of Congress. It’s the largest budget in American history, with increased military budget making for a record breaking $4.75 trillion; all of this built on the backs of working people, families mired in poverty, by hacking away at Medicare, Medicaid; through student loan forgiveness, ending that; work requirements for the poor; slashing important programs and budgets for education and environmental regulation. This is a budget around which Trump will build his presidential campaign.

The ball is now in the Democrats’ court. Are they up to the challenge, since they are deeply divided on plans like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal?

We look at the social and political consequences of this militarized Trump budget with Lindsay Koshgarian, who is program director of the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. And Lindsay, welcome back. Good to have you with us again.

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Good to be here. Thanks.

MARC STEINER: So let me begin this–we’re going to watch this short clip from the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought–V-O-U-G-H-T, I think it’s Vought–and what he had to say. Trump has not said anything publicly, but this is his spokesperson from the Department of Budget.

RUSSELL VOUGHT: Today we have released the president’s fiscal year 2020 budget. No president has done more in two years to strengthen our military, restart our economy, and reform our government than President Trump. The budget requests $750 billion for national defense. And to be clear, this is not funding for endless wars. This is for research and development and procurement to fund the most awe-inspiring military the world has ever known.

MARC STEINER: Now let’s go back 52 years to a man who was a visionary, had a different view of what budgets should be and what our society should be.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting drugs of hate into the veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot not be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

MARC STEINER: Of course, that was the Reverend Martin Luther King, and the very famous Riverside speech he gave in 1967 when he came out against the war in Vietnam. But began really talking about what the budget should be and how much we spend on the military. So let’s take it as first blush for you, Lindsay, and your analysis of what you saw. This is the largest military budget in American history, slashing all kinds of other things, which we’ll talk about in a moment. Your first piece of analysis when you read this? What came to you?

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Well, as you said, it’s a huge military budget. It’s not the largest one ever, but the only exceptions are at the height of World War II and the height of the Iraq war. So it’s higher than even during the peak years of Vietnam.

So this is a really huge military budget. Now, the president has said he doesn’t want to go into endless wars. But a lot of the justifications for having such a military budget are that he may need to go into World War III. That’s actually what the military is talking about when they talk about going to ground wars with China or Russia. So we should be realistic about what that means.

And then there’s the sort of, you know, the vision of America as a completely militarized society, where the government really consists of an enormous military that’s all over the world, in over 150 countries in the world the U.S. has troops, and a border wall, and a corresponding immigration system. And what he wants to take away is all of the programs that have helped to alleviate poverty, that help people to get out of poverty, that make life better and easier, that provide for an education. Every single department in this budget gets a cut except for the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs Department, Homeland Security, and a little teeny tiny plus for the Department of Commerce.

MARC STEINER: And he’s cutting a lot of stuff here. I want to talk a bit about the effect this has on the American people and our analysis of that, because the Trump administration and Republicans have a very different take on what this means.

Let’s go back to Mr. Vought from the Bureau of Management and Budget, and what he had to say about Medicare and other things.

RUSSELL VOUGHT: In terms of other major reforms, the administration is proposing uniform work requirements for Medicaid, TANF, SNAP or food stamps, and certain housing programs. We can help low-income families and end dependency on government benefits by strengthening work requirements.

MARC STEINER: It’s always–I mean, it’s not uncommon to have this doublespeak about what it means for poor people. But I mean, what they’re talking about, Lindsay–you can describe this better than I–they’re talking about taking Medicare, Medicaid budgets, slashing them, putting the money to states to do as they will with it, cutting programs for lunch for kids. And it’s just slashing to the bone, here.

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Yeah. They have about $2.7 trillion dollars in cuts to social programs, including some of those you just mentioned. It’s an enormous cut. It’s about 9 percent across the board to eerything that’s not the military and Homeland Security. And the biggest and hardest hit are things like Medicaid, Medicare, that President Trump, when he ran for office, said he wasn’t going to touch. So there’s a big step back on his word in terms of those programs, and that may actually hurt him when his base comes to realize that’s what’s going on.

MARC STEINER: And also virtually eliminating things that have to do with developing clean energy. Completely out of the budget.

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Yes. Clean energy was already a tiny part of the budget. There’s an Office of Renewable Energy in the Department of Energy. That budget was only about $2 billion, which is tiny by federal budget standards, and it’s being cut. And across the board, cuts are happening the Department of Energy, with the exception of nuclear weapons, which are part of that department, which are getting a boost.

MARC STEINER: I didn’t read about that one. Not surprising, though.

So I’m curious–there’s a couple of things that I think we need tackle while we’re together. One is a lot of Trump’s supporters–not all of them, but a number of them, a plurality, perhaps–are working class Americans, along with upper middle class Americans. And white Americans I’m talking about, for the most part. But this budget goes directly to take away from people who–whether you’re a farmer, it takes away their subsidies. It takes away all the things people rely on, Social Security, and more. Slashing Social Security other benefits, for Medicare. I mean, this really goes to the heart of what people expect from the government, and what people expect in their lives. I mean, how do you think this will play? Do you think it will become a political factor?

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, I think the extent to which it becomes a political factor depends to some extent on how far it actually goes with Congress, which is likely to be almost nowhere. So it may not become a big political issue, say, for the presidential election, or anything like that.

But it’s true that, you know, this budget cuts things, like you said, like the farm bill; things that are supposed to be kind of untouchable, like, you know, agricultural credits. Those are things that don’t usually come up for serious debate for cuts. And it just does it across the board. It leaves almost nobody untouched. And even in cases where it tries to say that it’s going to introduce some kind of new assistance program, it sort of gives something with one hand and takes it away with the other. So for instance, they’re going to make it a little bit easier for student loans to get forgiveness, for people to have their student loans forgiven. But on the other hand, they’re going to make people pay a whole lot more in interest, because they’re taking away subsidies for student loan interest, and they’re going to make people pay a higher percent of their income for student loans. So there’s really no part of this budget that actually makes life easier for anybody within the bottom 90 percent of the population in terms of income.

MARC STEINER: Well, then, this takes it–this, I think, will become part of the presidential campaign. And this throws it to the Democrats. I mean, you could look at this budget as the most blatantly plutocratic budget in a long time in our country. And the Democrats seem to be really divided on how to respond, from everything I’ve read so far. Whether it’s the Green New Deal, or Medicare for All, more establishment Democrats who have been in office for a long time are saying no, that we can’t have that in the budget. That goes against the grain.

So I mean, the Democrats are really going to have to kind of figure out how they’re going to respond to this. And it doesn’t look as if they’re going to have an easy time doing it.

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: That’s right. Things are really shaking up in the Democratic Party, and we’re seeing proposals like the Green New Deal and Medicare for all that are not necessarily beloved by some of the party elders, or establishment figures. But you know, I think there’s a real shift happening. And it should be very encouraging. You know, there’s such a deep hypocrisy in the administration, and a lot of people in Congress saying that we can’t do things like the Green New Deal because we can’t afford it, while on the other hand we sunk almost $6 trillion into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we’re continuing to put money into those wars. So if we can afford that, I would say we can afford to do some things to make life better at home.

MARC STEINER: And politically–finally–politically, I mean, when this finally comes up in a major way this fall and people battle over this budget, and it doesn’t come to fruition for anybody, there’s resolution to this, this will come in the middle of the major political campaigns for president and for other offices in this country. So this becomes a political football at a very critical time.

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Yeah, no doubt it will make things interesting. I mean, the Democratic candidates are still keeping up with their policy proposals, look like there are still a lot of them kind of doing footwork around trying to find their position on things like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. And this is going to be something that sort of sets up, OK, here’s what the Trump agenda looks like. It’s crystal clear. It’s a bigger military. It’s more, even worse on immigration enforcement than he’s [inaudible] wants to add ICE agents, he’s seeking more money for the border, and he’s cutting pretty much literally everything else. Education, public health, science and medical research, affordable housing. Pretty much you name it, he’s cutting it. So that’s a very clear vision, and it really gives Democrats something to set themselves up against. And hopefully it’s not just saying no to the cuts, but it’s actually saying yes to something better than that.

MARC STEINER: So that means you’re going to be playing with some numbers, Lindsay, and coming up with something here?

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: I’ve been playing a lot with numbers on cutting the Pentagon budget, and I think, you know, it’s up at $750 billion if Trump gets his way. And aside from being higher than the peak of Vietnam, it’s about $350 billion more than it was just before 9/11. So I think we have to get back there. We’ve got to take those $350 billion and put them back into something else.

MARC STEINER: I want to remind people, I think, in this that the military didn’t even ask for this increase.

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: No, they asked for a smaller amount. And yet this is what they got. And it’s not at all unprecedented. I mean, what’s interesting is that some of the things that are in this budget for the military probably won’t happen. But other things–like, this budget actually calls for fewer F-35 jet fighters for the Air Force than was planned, but Congress will probably put those back in. So things have a way of sort of inching up for all sorts of reasons that don’t really have anything to do with what the military needs.

MARC STEINER: Lindsay Koshgarian, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. Thanks for all the work you do. I look forward to talking to you again very soon.


MARC STEINER: Thank you very much. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for watching. Take care.

Production: Andrew Corkery

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.