Before you know it the holidays will be here and then in early January the focus will be on the new Congress and administration. So it might be worth taking a look at what the priorities will be, at least as they’ve been announced by the various players.
A couple of weeks ago president-elect Trump released a video of some of the things he promises to do on his first day. It didn’t give us much insight because, other than an announcement that he would formally withdraw the U.S. from TPP, he said he would start some studies, issue a regulation about regulations and institute lobbying reform (which is pretty meaningless given that, when it comes to his cabinet, Trump is putting the foxes in charge of guarding the hen house).
One thing to note when it comes to contemplating Donald Trump’s agenda is that Stan Collender has reported that the president-elect may not submit a 2018 budget – something that is required by the Congressional Budget Act to be done between January 2 and February 6, but is often delayed. That would present the incoming administration an opportunity to lay out its priorities. So it’s interesting to note the reasons Collander outlines for why a Trump administration would take the unprecedented step of not doing so.
First of all, the transition team hasn’t announced Trump’s pick for Director of the Office of Management and Budget. That means that it would likely be almost summer before a budget could be prepared. But Congressional Republicans want to use the reconciliation process to repeal Obamacare (since it only requires a simple majority). So they will simply be able to bypass any hearings on a presidential budget that would delay that procedure.
Beyond that, preparing a budget would require the Trump administration to put on paper how his tax and spending plans would affect the deficit as well as produce tables documenting his unrealistic claims about GDP growth and job creation. In other words, an actual budget would require one of two things:
- Digging deep into the weeds of the federal budget to pull off the kinds of “slight of hand” tricks that would be required to cover up the lies Trump told during his campaign, or
- Exposing the lies Trump told during his campaign.
This is another outcome of electing a con man to be POTUS. It will be interesting to see if a Trump administration ever actually produces a budget. Laying out his priorities and documenting how he plans to achieve them would require the president-elect to think these things through and commit to an agenda. What we’ve seen from Donald Trump is that he doesn’t have the attention span or self-control necessary to do that. He prefers instead to react in the moment and give himself permission to be unpredictable.
In terms of legislative action, we’ve known for a while now that VP-Elect Pence will be standing in for the president when it comes to setting priorities and guiding the process. Recently he outlined his top three agenda items.
- Repeal Obamacare
- Increase defense spending
- Tax cuts
It’s interesting to compare that list with Speaker Ryan’s.
- Repeal Obamacare
- Tax cuts
- Repeal regulations
Before getting to a discussion of what is on these lists, it’s interesting to note what is not. The big missing ingredient is the Trump/Bannon plan for a $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill. Given that our current low interest rates are part of the rationale many conservatives have begun to adopt as a reason to pursue these plans, and that conservatives are convinced they will increase substantially in the near future, the fact that infrastructure is not on either list of priorities is a pretty good sign that it has been tabled.
Also not included among the top three for either Pence of Ryan is anything related to immigration. While some of Trump’s promises on that issue could be addressed via a repeal of regulations and/or executive orders, there is no mention of building a wall or increased spending on a deportation force for those 2-3 million undocumented “criminals” Trump talked about.
It also appears that shinning a big spotlight on Ryan’s idea of moving quickly to privatize Medicare was effective. He recently said that, while he won’t drop the issue, a plan for doing so has not been decided.
In terms of what is on the lists, its clear that the first order of business will be to repeal Obamacare. But as we’ve noted, Republicans haven’t even agreed on a “repeal and delay” strategy yet – much less a replacement plan. The other item that will be a focus is tax cuts – which have received much less attention. It is perhaps assumed that leadership will be able to rally the troops into agreement on a proposal. But that remains to be seen.
That’s what’s up first for the 115th session of Congress.