WASHINGTON ― At a private meeting of conservatives in Cleveland this summer, Donald Trump’s senior economic adviser, Stephen Moore, said the candidate planned to pay for his costly proposals by eliminating the departments of Commerce, Energy and Education; lifting all restrictions on mining, drilling and fracking; ending Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs, and offering rust-belt factory workers new jobs on oil rigs and steel mills.
Speaking at the private summer meeting of the Council for National Policy (CNP), a secretive group of powerful conservatives, Moore, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, also described how Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions had “infiltrated” Trump’s campaign operation, and how Moore and other supply-side economists were working hard to get Trump to be more supportive of free trade.
An audio recording of Moore’s question-and-answer session with CNP vice president Bill Walton was posted online a few weeks after the July 14 conference, but has not been reported on until now.
Moore’s description of how a Trump administration would pay for its programs is not something that Trump himself talks about much on the stump. A consummate showman, Trump prefers to play to his crowds. In front of blue-collar audiences, he touts his plans for trade protectionism and building a wall with Mexico. For older voters, Trump promises not to make any changes to Social Security or Medicare benefits.
This “something for everyone” message is a key part of Trump’s popular appeal to voters, and it helps to set him apart from hardcore anti-government conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), whose most memorable campaign pledge was to abolish the Internal Revenue Service.
On top of Trump’s plans to maintain costly programs like Social Security, he’s also proposed a massive tax cut and pledged to balance the federal budget within seven years. Yet anyone who looks closely at Trump’s proposals comes away with the same question: How would a Trump administration pay for all this?
For starters, Moore said, major cabinet-level agencies should be eliminated. Walton asked him specifically about eliminating the departments of Commerce, Education and Energy. Together, these agencies employ an estimated 150,000 people, and they oversee things ranging from nuclear security to federal student loans to the U.S. patent system.
“I’m going to press as hard as possible to [eliminate the agencies],” Moore said. “We’re putting a budget together right now that is going to not only pay for the tax cut, but balance the budget in six or seven years. And to do that, you’ve got to make very significant cuts in those kinds of programs.
“I mean, my God, why do we need an Energy Department?” Moore asked, semi-exasperated. “All the Energy Department has done in the last 25 years is make energy prices more expensive!”
In an interview Friday, Moore said he has spoken to Trump about eliminating the Energy Department. “I don’t know if he’d shut it down, but there’s a good chance the energy subsidies are going to be on the chopping block. I haven’t talked to him about the Education Department, so I was speaking for myself. As for Commerce, I call it the department of corporate welfare, and I know Trump has been specific about ending the crony corporate welfare systems.”
A spokeswoman for Trump said Moore “is one of many different outside advisors to the campaign, but is speaking on his own behalf.”
A few days after his speech to the Council for National Policy, Moore talked to Fox News about how Trump might balance the budget as president. Watch the video, below.
So far, Trump has given only one speech on energy policy, back in May. But as Moore explained in the Council for National Policy meeting, fossil fuels will be a major piece of Trump’s economic plan, both in terms of generating revenue and in terms of putting unemployed workers back to work.
“If we promote American energy and use our coal, and our oil, and our natural gas and nuclear power, not only can the United States be energy-independent in five or six years, we can be the dominant energy power in the world,” Moore said at the meeting.
“You’re talking about 6 to 8 million more jobs. And these are trucking jobs, construction, engineering, pipe-fitting jobs, welding jobs. I think Trump has a great chance to go to these industrial unions and tell them, ‘I’ll put your members to work and create new jobs, unlike these lunatics over here, like Tom Steyer and Hillary Clinton, who want to put you out of business.’ So that’s a big big part of the agenda.”
Moore’s lust for oil and coal is well known in conservative circles, and his most recent book, Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy, makes it pretty clear where he stands. When Moore signed on to advise the Trump campaign, he was working as a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that also helped Trump come up with his infamous list of potential Supreme Court nominees.
Moore’s first task for Trump was to devise the candidate’s energy policy ahead of a speech Trump gave in North Dakota on May 26. Thanks to Moore, unlimited drilling, fracking and mining has become one of the four pillars of Trump’s “Economic Vision.”
At the Council for National Policy meeting, Moore reiterated that Trump will lift any and all restrictions on fossil fuel production. The millions of jobs this will create, he said, can be filled by the same disaffected blue collar workers who form the base of Trump’s electoral support.
Moore’s plan is almost genius, except for the fact that it relies entirely on the presumption that global energy prices will be high enough to make all this drilling and mining worthwhile for the energy companies. Currently, oil and gas prices are so low that many of North Dakota’s famed natural gas wells can’t even afford to operate, leaving thousands of rig workers without jobs.
Despite what Trump says at his rallies about looking out for the downtrodden, being unemployed or poor in Trump’s America would likely be even more difficult than it is today, thanks to draconian public assistance reforms and cuts in social services.
“We’re going to borrow a really good idea from John Kasich,” Moore said, referring to transforming the federal social safety net into a system of block grants for individual states. “All these programs, job training, health care, medical services, da da da, we’ll just pass all that stuff back to the states.”
Long a favorite among conservative deficit hawks, block grant programs have been shown in recent studies to be very vulnerable to budget cuts at the state level, which ultimately means fewer services for needy families.
“We’re also going to do some welfare reform,” Moore continued. “We’ve built an incredible entitlement state, and this kind of victimization, and that’s got to end. We’re going to go after those programs.
“All you have to do is require employable adults who don’t have disabilities to work for their benefits, and you’re going to see big changes in the welfare system,” Moore said. What he failed to mention was that the majority of people receiving federal anti-poverty benefits are already working, so his plan wouldn’t apply to them.
Moore’s message of tough love is also a far cry from the sympathetic take on poverty that Trump adopted a month later, as he wooed African-American voters in August.
“No group in America has been more harmed by Hillary Clinton’s policies than African Americans,” Trump said at an August rally, before citing bogus statistics about race, poverty and crime. His policies, Trump said, were aimed at helping “unemployed African-American youth in cities like Detroit who have become refugees in their own country.”
On Saturday, Trump visited a predominantly black congregation in Detroit, where he told parishioners he would remedy “injustice in any form,” and he called for a “civil rights agenda for our time.”
Watch Trump’s speech at Great Faith Ministries International in Detroit, below.
If you’re starting to think that maybe Trump actually worries about the plight of the poor, think again. It is business and industry leaders, not unemployed youth, who are the intended beneficiaries of a Trump economy.
According to Moore, several of Trump’s economic proposals came out of monthly meetings he held with the Trump Leadership Council, which Moore described as “25 or 30 major industry leaders, the men and women who run the great companies in America.”
“These are energy companies, transportation companies, telecommunications and tech companies. We meet about once a month with Donald Trump, and he always sits there and each person has about two or three minutes to talk.”
Moore continued: “What shocked me about these meetings was listening to these business leaders, and they all said the biggest thing is the regulatory state, and it’s just strangling their businesses in every single arena. So the first thing we’re going to do about this is have a regulatory freeze. The day he enters office we’re just going to put a halt on any new regulations.”
“Number two, and you’re gonna love this,” Moore said, “we are putting together a list, and we need your help on this. If you guys can get us the information, we want to make a list of about 50 to 100 executive orders that Obama has passed that we can repeal on the first day [Trump is] in office. As many of them as we can. With a strike of the pen. That’s going to be an injection of performance-enhancing drugs into the economy.”
Three weeks later, when Trump debuted his economic plan in Detroit, however, there was no mention of the Council for National Policy members who’d been invited to propose executive orders for repeal. Instead, Trump said, “I will also immediately cancel all illegal and overreaching executive orders.”
On Friday, Moore admitted that the Trump campaign is “still working on a budget plan, frankly. I’ve made suggestions, but we’re still figuring out how to pay for things and still balance the budget.”
He also hinted that voters may not get to see much more of Trump’s economic or budget plans before Election Day. “I don’t think it would be wise in a presidential campaign to talk too much about what you’re going to cut, and get stuck in the weeds,” Moore said. “It’s a trap, and you make more enemies than you can attract among voters.”
Moore said he has been working on tax policy and energy with Trump. “I’ve made suggestions about what to cut and some program eliminations, and so we’ll see.
“Trump’s got some specific policies, but he doesn’t have a huge number of them,” Moore said, before citing two examples of Trump proposals: “Making Europe pay more for NATO, and allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare.”
Then again, Moore said, “Clinton was elected in ‘92 on a three-word slogan, ‘Putting People First.’”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.