President Donald Trump likes to say he is keeping his campaign promises. However, in the most important respect, he is reneging on the message he delivered to his most ardent supporters: He's not leveling the playing field, but rather, he's boosting the already-rich.
First, Trump's big infrastructure bill seems not to be happening anytime soon. Between the mammoth tax cuts for the rich and a needed, but expensive, buildup of the military, there aren't funds to pay for a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. When you throw health-care reform into the mix, political bandwidth to take on infrastructure spending disappears. At his press briefing Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer talked about the measure as part of a longer-range discussion with Congress for which no funding mechanism had been agreed upon.
As one commentator put it:
"The president's promised fiscal stimulus isn't going to be enacted or take effect any time soon. If it happens at all, the soonest the economy will begin to feel the impact of a Trump stimulus is in federal fiscal year 2018, that is, starting 7 months from now on October 1. ... Part of the reason for this is how long it's taking for Congress to do what the day after Election Day was considered to be a slam-dunk: repeal the Affordable Care Act. The controversy between and among congressional Republicans is now so multifaceted, heated and chaotic that the delay could soon make it far more difficult for the House and Senate to deal with both ACA and tax reform."
Then there is the tax plan, which Edward Luce points out looks more like a stick-it-to-the-middle-class plan:
"Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, wants them enacted by August. It is unclear whether it will include a 'border adjustment tax' that would hit importers but supposedly incentivise manufacturers to bring production back home. The import tax would raise roughly $1tn over the next decade and finance a much larger tax cut than otherwise.
"Unsurprisingly, the only stocks that have done badly since Mr Trump was inaugurated are big retailers, such as Walmart, who would be hardest hit by a 20 per cent border tax. Their customers are the forgotten Americans whose grocery bills would soar. It matters little to them whether Mr Trump pushes through a large or a medium sized tax cut. Simple arithmetic ensures the gains would go disproportionately to the top one per cent."
Even sometimes-Trump-adviser Stephen Moore thinks the border adjustment tax is problematic, noting it "would in effect impose a tax on American imports while exempting American made exports from income tax calculations. That's a giant change to how America taxes its businesses, and respected economists are divided as to whether this makes economic sense. Meanwhile, the business community is split down the middle. This is no way to build consensus for a tax plan." Get rid of the tax, he says, dismissive of tacking on another trillion to the debt. That, however, won't fly with the GOP Congress.
As for Obamacare, the politics look daunting, but the end product is hardly what Trump promised. Conservative health-care guru Avik Roy explains:
"The draft would replace Obamacare's means-tested tax credits with tax credits that are not adjusted for income. This is the key flaw in the House leadership plan, because it means that millions of highly vulnerable people-those near the poverty line and those with poor health status-will not receive enough in tax credits to afford the coverage they need ...
"A $3,000 tax credit is enough to help a relatively healthy person in the middle class buy affordable coverage. But if your health status is poor, and therefore your premiums are high, it won't be enough, unless you force insurers to charge healthy and sick people the same prices (i.e., you ban medical underwriting). And if your income is near the poverty line-let's say you make $10,000 a year-and you can't find a plan for $3,000, you're likely to go without coverage."
As for health savings accounts, those without disposable income to put into their accounts get nothing. Once again, this cannot be remotely seen as a populist measure.
On infrastructure, taxes and health care, then, Trump's "populism" runs headlong into extreme-right-wing policy ideas that do not do much for working-class voters. Even Trump's populist-sounding ideas (trade protectionism) don't help working-class people, since these same people wind up paying more as consumers for dubious economic results. That's bad enough, but for all the talk of Stephen Bannon running the government, if you consider the repeal of a slew of government regulations, tax plans and spending plans, and health care, it comes nowhere near closing the gap between rich and poor. It's a pro-business, pro-rich-guy agenda. There is precious little here to benefit Trump's Rust Belt fans who face a real risk that their health-care coverage will be worse.
Democrats might figure out that those working-class voters they lost in 2016 are getting left high and dry. A smart strategy would be to point out just how much of what Trump is promising is useless bait for anti-immigrant xenophobes (the wall) and policies that benefit upper-income people. It's almost like he swindled his more desperate voters.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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