Pity the poor Rust Belt voters who thought President Trump was going to shake up Washington, D.C., drain the swamp, redo trade deals, label China a currency manipulator, repeal and replace Obamacare and back tax cuts for the middle class, not the rich. None of that is coming to pass, for a variety of reasons.
In an interview on Wednesday, Trump declared he is going back to the well, seeking to repeal Obamacare before moving on to tax reform. This is a recipe for accomplishing neither. It will also be the nail in the coffin for his relationship with working-class voters who put him in office. The Wall Street Journal reports:
In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said he was still considering what to do about the payments approved by his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, which some Republicans contend are unconstitutional. Their abrupt disappearance could trigger an insurance meltdown that causes the collapse of the 2010 health law, forcing lawmakers to return to a bruising debate over its future.
There are several problems with all that. First, Democrats won’t participate in the blackmail scam, and instead will rightly point out Trump is wrecking the health-care system for those who need it most. In a terse written statement, Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted Trump. “President Trump is threatening to hold hostage health care for millions of Americans, many of whom voted for him, to achieve a political goal of repeal that would take health care away from millions more,” he said. “This cynical strategy will fail.”
He added, “Our position remains unchanged: Drop repeal, stop undermining our health-care system, and we will certainly sit down and talk about ways to improve the Affordable Care Act.” It is not even clear that Republicans — especially those moderates who were concerned about rolling back Medicaid and the harsh effects of the America Health Care Act — would countenance Trump’s plan.
Second, there still is no viable plan with which to replace Obamacare. The problem is not lack of Democratic support for Trumpcare, but lack of GOP agreement. One-half of the House GOP caucus wants to undo the federal government’s role in health care and the other wants to make Obamacare more generous. Only 17 percent of voters approved of the AHCA, which the Freedom Caucus insists on making even less consumer-friendly. Trump can threaten all he likes, but he has yet to solve the policy and political problems inherent in a repeal and replace approach.
As the GOP flails away on health care, it appears — sort of — as if Trump won’t move onto tax reform until health care is done (which could well be never). That’s what Trump said in an interview on Wednesday, but his budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested that his office would proceed down parallel tracks. Either way, voters and members of Congress will soon see the GOP offering big tax cuts for the rich and a massive increase in the debt. Once again, Trump would not be delivering on his promises.
At this point, Trump risks accomplishing none of his major campaign promises and abandoning his populist message altogether. The Post reports:
Trump will not label China a “currency manipulator,” he told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, despite a campaign pledge that he would apply the label on his first day in office. He also said he was open to reappointing Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet L. Yellen after saying last year that the central banker should be “ashamed” of what she was doing to the country.
And he embraced the Export-Import Bank, a government agency that he mocked last year and that has long been despised by conservatives who labeled it crony capitalism.
The statements represent a move toward the economic policies of more centrist Republicans and even at times align with the approach of former president Barack Obama. Should he follow through on the newly articulated positions, it would suggest that the candidate who ran as the ultimate outsider is increasingly adopting a more moderate economic agenda.
One can explain the shift in any number of ways. His populist cheerleader, Stephen K. Bannon, is out of favor. Trump instead is relying on more traditionally conservative Cabinet members, not all that different from the sort of people his primary opponents would have picked. It therefore is no surprise the policies sound like they’ve come from Club for Growth — or Goldman Sachs. Beyond the personnel, reality does intervene. China has not been a currency manipulator for some time.
According to The Post:
Economists and even critics of China’s economic policy have said that while the country used to intervene to devalue its currency, it abandoned that practice years ago. It would have been embarrassing for Trump, in an upcoming currency report by the Treasury Department, to allege that the Chinese were engaged in a practice they had already stopped, these experts said.
Moreover, Trump has figured out he doesn’t want a trade war with China at a time when, among other things, he is trying to enlist China’s help in restraining North Korea.
In sum, Trump has not delivered on much of what he said in part because he and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had never thought through the policy and political implications of his policy linchpin, repealing and replacing Obamacare. Moreover, much of what Trump said in the campaign was economic nonsense, which he is now forced to drop.
Critics of Trump may breathe a sigh of relief as they see his campaign promises shoved overboard. Whatever delight one experiences, however, in seeing Trump’s populist hooey collapse, the problems of the U.S. economy and the people who invested so much hope in him remain. Wage stagnation, a mismatch between worker skills and employer needs, low productivity and crumbling infrastructure still plague the country. And while Trump thankfully may not being doing many of the silly things he promised, he lacks a reasonable, effective agenda that is responsive to our current needs. It really is not sufficient in these times only to do no harm.