Peruse the new legislative “roadmap” released Monday by Americans for Prosperity — the political organizing arm of the conservative donor network led by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch — and you won’t come across much that will surprise those who know the brothers’ long-standing priorities.
But the familiar agenda — repealing the Affordable Care Act, reining in government spending and rolling back federal regulation of private industry — is suffused with the heady new aroma of sky-high expectations.
Since the Koch network emerged as a major national force, Democrats have controlled at least one of the reins of Washington power. As of Friday, Republicans will have the House, the Senate and the White House in their grip. Alongside many other conservative activist groups, AFP is making clear that the time for excuses is gone.
“We’ve had promises, especially on controlling spending, from Republicans, and it’s time for them to really keep their word,” AFP President Tim Phillips said in an interview Friday. “Before, they had a reasonable point when they would say, ‘Well, we don’t control the White House.’ There was a time when they only had the House and not the Senate. They have all three now, and so the ability to genuinely get these actions, take these actions, get this agenda done — now they have that opportunity.”
The new AFP agenda is being rolled out after a long campaign where the Koch network focused its energy on state and congressional races — not on the presidential race, in what was widely interpreted as a rejection of Donald Trump.
But AFP can point to major successes over the past year — helping to oust a GOP House member who had voted against key priorities, swinging close Senate races toward Republican incumbents in North Carolina and Wisconsin, and putting field workers on the ground in key states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio that handed Trump the presidency.
There are plenty of signs that any tensions between Trump and the Kochs are in the rear-view mirror. Marc Short, a former top Koch network official, will be serving in an influential post in the White House as director of legislative affairs. And the Washington Post reported last month that many Trump transition advisers on veterans affairs had ties to Concerned Veterans for America — a Koch group that was recently brought under AFP’s umbrella.
The new legislative roadmap includes a call to “give real choice to America’s heroes and bring accountability to the [Department of Veterans Affairs], which only Congress can provide” — a nod to the CVA’s advocacy for a more privatized veterans health-care system.
The agenda starts with an urgent call to repeal Obamacare, saying that task “should be at the top of the to-do list” for the new unified GOP government. It also calls for ongoing adherence to the bipartisan spending deal negotiated in 2011 and for the passage of a balanced-budget constitutional amendment, as well as “real tax reform that lowers rates, eliminates loopholes, simplifies the code for everyone, and protects consumers from new tax increases.” It also calls for the reversal of federal regulations and the end to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.
If there is one area where AFP’s priorities and Trump’s might be in direct conflict, it is infrastructure — an area where Trump’s chief strategist has floated a trillion-dollar spending plan.
“Everyone agrees that we must fix roads and bridges in need of repair, but the best way to pay for this isn’t to spend money we don’t have and add billions — or even trillions — to the national debt,” the AFP document says. “Instead, lawmakers must eliminate or reform outdated regulations that make construction projects more costly and drag them out for years, or even decades.”
Phillips said he did not see major points of friction between AFP’s agenda and the ideas already put forth by Trump and congressional Republicans. But he acknowledged that could change as the congressional sausage-making process gets underway.
“You’re never in full agreement with any politician,” he said. “That’s the nature of things, but … there is broad, encouraging policy agreement. The truth is, the election’s over. It may only be three months ago, but, frankly, it’s over, and now is the time to put forward policies that will improve the lives of Americans. The Republicans have enormous opportunity. With that opportunity does come high expectations, and we’re hopeful they’re going to meet those expectations.”
“We’re going to help them do that,” Phillips added, “and we’ll also hold them accountable if there are times when they don’t.”
The Koch network will certainly have the means to do so. While the network does not publicly disclose all of its spending, officials said they aimed to spend roughly $250 million financing policy and political campaigns in the 2016 cycle.