What’s holding back the Republican agenda?
It’s not the toothless Democrats, despite what you may have heard from President Trump. Five months ago, when Trump moved into the White House, they lost their grip on their last lever of significant Washington power.
Likewise, it’s not Trump’s infernal nocturnal tweets, unhelpful though they may be.
Neither is it the distraction of nonstop news about Trump’s aides’ ties to Russia or the president’s own possible attempts to obstruct justice.
Nor is it leaky White House staffers, nor the operatives of the “deep state.”
So what’s actually obstructing the Republican agenda? It’s the fact that there is no Republican agenda.
For years Republicans, including and especially the party’s current standard-bearer, have promised magic bullets for nearly every social, economic and global ill, no matter how complex. But this was not a policy platform; this was a series of bluffs disguised as a policy platform.
The latest bluff arrives this week, as the White House promotes its grand plan to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure. This promotional effort comes despite an acknowledgment from National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn that no such grand plan exists. (A month earlier, Trump claimed his administration’s infrastructure proposal was already “largely completed.”)
On other domestic issues, Republicans have been touting the superiority of their woolly policy agenda for ages. Trump merely added a little color to the con.
Republican members of Congress voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare, knowing full well that their ill-conceived bills would never become law. Eventually the pledge to “repeal” the law morphed into a vague promise to “repeal and replace” it.
With Trump helming the party, the fantastical achievements of this TBD replacement plan grew greater by the day. It would offer, Trump promised, more widespread insurance coverage, cheaper premiums, lower deductibles, superior care and no cuts to Medicaid.
“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump told The Post in January. Americans would be “beautifully covered.”
The plan that passed the House last month achieves none of this. And the proposal’s status in the Senate remains in limbo, given that Republican senators cannot agree on what a Republican health-care plan should actually do.
Tax reform, arguably the GOP’s top priority, is on hold as well. And again, not because Democrats are undermining it — but because Republicans can’t figure out what their priorities are, or how to achieve them.
They have promised to cut rates for everyone and somehow not cost the government a dime. Predictably, Republicans cannot agree how this magical revenue-neutral tax reform proposal would work. Proposed revenue sources, such as a “ border adjustment ” tax or the elimination of the state and local tax deduction, remain contentious, and even those would not fully cover the cost of steep rate cuts.
Sometimes the White House claims these tax cuts will pay for themselves through additional economic growth, and sometimes it says they won’t. The administration is so ambivalent about its own fiscal policies that last week Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, disavowed the tax portion of his own budget.
“I wouldn’t take what’s in the budget as indicative of what our proposals are,” he told the Washington Examiner.
This confusion about what the party — and the presidency — stands for extends to foreign matters as well.
Trump has declared that NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accord and even the NATO alliance are all “bad deals” for the United States and that he would negotiate better ones. He has yet to produce even a coherent explanation of what a “better deal” would look like.
Trump’s most brazen bluff, of course, dates back two years, when he bragged about his “secret” plan to defeat the Islamic State, a plan so potent and powerful that it would reveal he knew more than the generals.
“All I can tell you is that it is a foolproof way of winning, and I’m not talking about what some people would say, but it is a foolproof way of winning the war with ISIS,” he promised, declaring that his plan would achieve “total victory.” Secrecy was paramount, he insisted, not only because he didn’t want the Islamic State to find out but also because he didn’t want his political rivals to steal his brilliant scheme and claim credit. (America First, indeed.)
Two years later, there’s still no “foolproof” new plan, no “total victory” — on the Islamic State, health care, taxes, trade, infrastructure or any other major issue. Yet we keep being told a game-changing policy package is but a few weeks away.
This bluffing has gone on long enough. Maybe it’s time for Republicans to show us their cards.