Sunday, March 19, 2017

Donald Trump's failing presidency?

What would a failed Trump administration look like?

It certainly doesn't need to involve President Trump's impeachment and removal from office. Rather, imagine this: As the 2018 midterm elections approach, Trump's only accomplishment is starting construction on the southern border mega-wall. No ObamaCare replacement. No big tax cut. No big infrastructure plan. And millions of American voters are starting to consider that handing total power in Washington to a party led by a short-attention-span novice was a cosmically bad idea.

It hardly seems like a far-fetched scenario right now.

First, repealing and replacing ObamaCare, the GOP's top priority, was just dealt a hammer blow by the Congressional Budget Office. Conservative Republicans will surely focus on the CBO finding that the American Health Care Act would reduce projected debt by $300 billion and cut taxes by $900 billion over a decade. But the more relevant numbers to many Americans will be the 14 million people losing health insurance coverage next year and the 20 percent rise in insurance premiums if the bill becomes law. Republicans may quibble about details and degree, but the CBO forecast is almost certainly correct directionally.

Priority two doesn't look a whole lot healthier. The GOP plan to deeply cut tax rates depends on the blueprint's controversial and deeply confusing border-adjustment provision, where imports would be taxed but exports wouldn't. Not surprisingly, the plan has split GOP business backers depending on whether they export goods (like Boeing) or import them (like Walmart). Dropping this provision — as seems highly probable — would blow a trillion-dollar revenue hole in a plan already counting on aggressive growth forecasts to avoid hemorrhaging red ink.

And while it's true that things typically look darkest before the dawn when trying to pass major legislation, the AHCA and the GOP's tax plan both look to be in serious trouble. Now, to be positive, they are also more or less fixable — at least on paper. Or at least vastly improvable. The health-care plan could be tweaked to help the poor and old by spending more on Medicaid and tax credits for purchasing private insurance. And the penalty for skipping coverage could be made harsher so more healthy people sign up and create stronger risk pools. (My AEI colleagues Jim Capretta and Joe Antos have already assembled a fix.)

The tax plan could also be modified for the better. One option would be to dump the current plan and go with a ready-made alternative like the one proposed in 2014 by former GOP Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp. That proposal would cut personal and business taxes but be revenue neutral by cutting or crimping various tax breaks. Or Republicans could keep their current plan and just not cut rates so deeply, especially for wealthier Americans. Trust me, they'll be fine.

Of course, the catch with all those possible changes to the health and tax plans is that while they might make them more palatable and passable to more moderate GOPers, particularly in the Senate, they would also make them less so to conservatives. Then there's the president himself, who remains a cipher on the health and tax plans he would prefer and be willing to spend political capital on. Republicans don't just need Trump to sign what they send him. They will at some point need him to show leadership on this legislation and then fight hard for it.
And time is wasting away. It's always easier to try and do big things in the first year or so of a new presidential term. The 1981 Reagan tax cuts were passed and signed in August 1981. ObamaCare in March of 2010.

But it's not just the electoral clock making time of the essence for the GOP. Many congressional Republicans remain worried the Trump administration will eventually implode, and they want to make sure they get the big things done ASAP. Yet with that haste has come sweeping reform legislation that's not fully cooked, risking failure for reform and the Trump presidency itself.

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