Monday, March 27, 2017

Last week's Republican... care debacle illustrated for me the main problem with President Trump and the Republican Congress: they have never been, and are still not, on the same page. It's interesting to me, for example, that more attention hasn't been paid to the fact that the Ryan health care bill was pretty much the opposite of what candidate Trump campaigned on. No wonder it failed.

In 2016 the Republican Party had no fewer than 17 candidates for president -- seventeen! -- with all but one running on Ronald Reagan's legacy of small government, entitlement reform, balanced budgets, free trade, immigration reform and an internationalist foreign policy. But the primary voters ended up choosing the one guy who ran on preserving Social Security and Medicare; a $1 trillion infrastructure stimulus plan; fair, as opposed to free, trade; deporting undocumented immigrants and constructing a border wall along the southern border (which the Mexican government would somehow pay for); and an America First foreign policy.

Now, while the Republican Party establishment remains united on Saint Reagan's unfinished agenda from the 1980s, the Trump "movement" is really only a movement of one. (Okay, it also includes Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller.) But no other "Trump candidates" were elected to Congress on his coattails. In fact, I can't think of any who actually ran.

So the Donald surprised everyone (including himself, I'm sure) by winning the general election in November. And since he lacked Washington experience and had no followers there anyway, Trump naturally turned to capitol insiders like Mike Pence and Reince Priebus (and Paul Ryan, I'm also sure) to form a cabinet. Like any new administration, with a few exceptions, they essentially appointed the party's "shadow" cabinet to fill all the jobs Trump didn't really care about: Tom Price at HHS, Elaine Chao at Transportation, Betsy DeVos at Education, Mick Mulvaney at OMB, Scott Pruitt at EPA, Andrew Puzder at Labor (since withdrawn), et cetera, et cetera.

But this is where the problem comes in. As demonstrated by the 2016 Republican primaries, the party's base is no longer where the establishment is. If they were, they would have nominated someone like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or any one of the other Reagan clones. Instead, they're no longer buying what the establishment is selling. So when Paul Ryan put forth his health care replacement plan it generated a 17 percent approval rating overall with only 41 percent among Republicans. What might have been warmly received in the 1980s, a time of inflation, problematic budget deficits, high marginal tax rates, burdensome regulations, etc., just isn't what's called for in 2017. Despite what establishment Republicans like Ryan might think, the average middle-class voter today wants security, not "freedom." So Trump ended up supporting a health care bill that would have reduced coverage and increased premiums and deductibles for the middle class while at the same time handing a giant tax cut to the rich after getting elected on an agenda promising to do just the opposite. Is it any surprise it went nowhere?

Now that health care is off the table (probably for good) tax reform is next on the docket. But, from what I've been reading, that won't be easy either. Apparently this border adjustment tax is going to be a big point of contention.

Then there's the budget, which I've read will also be divisive. So then the border wall, which I've always thought was delusional, and a Keynesian stimulus infrastructure spending -- with full employment and rising interest rates, no less! -- are looking more and more unrealistic.

What if Trump ends up empty-handed, not at all unlikely, at the end of 2017? He'll make Jimmy Carter's administration look like a well-oiled machine in comparison!

Again, here's the problem as I see it: you have a Republican Congress that wants to put policies in place that no one else wants and a president who ran on a populist agenda that has very little support within his own party. Unless Trump begins working with Democrats, also unlikely, I just don't see how this ends well for him.


Ed Crotty said...

the fact that the Ryan health care bill was pretty much the opposite of what candidate Trump campaigned on

And yet he supported it wholeheartedly.

Ed Crotty said...

also - their "infrastructure" is supposed to be all "public-private partnerships" - otherwise known as tollways. Public land given to private developers for private profits. "Taxes" don't go up - but fees/tools/etc go way up.