Trump Missed His Last Chance to Work with Democrats

On Tuesday night, President Trump delivered the third-longest State of the Union in the nation’s history and he spoke about the importance of national unity. Yet, he clearly doesn’t expect much in Congress. There isn’t a lot that Democrats and Republicans can agree about right now in the policy sphere, but there are least a couple of things that they might work together to pass. For one, the Democrats are very interested in investing in infrastructure. Our roads are in disrepair, many bridges are unsafe, our energy grid is insecure, and our rail and air systems are hardly the envy of the world. A lot of people can be put to work if Congress will authorize the spending.

Yet, Trump invested about twenty seconds on the subject. Here’s the entirety of what he said about infrastructure:

“I know that the Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill — and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting edge industries of the future. This is not an option. This is a necessity.”

Another subject that Congress might conceivably tackle is the high cost of prescription medication. The Democrats successfully ran on the issue during the midterms and will be passing legislation through the House of Representatives. Trump said it was a priority for him, too, but this all he had to say about it in his speech.

“The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs — and to protect patients with pre-existing conditions.

“Already, as a result of my Administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.

“But we must do more. It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it.”

I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients. We should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down.

To begin with, fact-checkers saw Trump’s claim about “the largest decline [in drug prices] in 46 years” as mostly spin.

According to the Consumer Price Index, that dip is .62 percent, looking at data collected on Dec. 2017 to data from Dec. 2018. Last fall, an Associated Press analysis examined the list prices for some 26,000 brand-name drugs and found 96 price hikes for every one price cut.

In addition to that, anyone who understands anything about the Republicans’ attacks on the Affordable Care Act knows that they were incapable of coming up with any alternative that would protect people with preexisting conditions. That has not changed. But it’s not the misleading rhetoric that’s the main problem here.

There were a few things Trump mentioned that should interest Democrats, such as working to end new HIV transmission within a decade and making a push to fight childhood cancer, but his overall vision for bipartisan legislation on health care was sparse. One of the ideas he obliquely referenced is actually a bill already being pushed by Senate Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley that would allow Americans to import prescription drugs from Canada and save money in the process. Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is a cosponsor of the bill, but the main holdup is opposition from the GOP caucus in the Senate. Perhaps the president could have been more specific and emphatic about his desire to see Grassley’s bill on his desk.

Trump spent most of his time talking about the horrors caused by the drugs and people coming across our southern border and reemphasizing his distaste for international cooperation on trade, nuclear proliferation, and arms control. He accused the people of New York of cheering infanticide. But he had almost nothing to say about issues of concern to Democrats, including education, climate change, and civil and voting rights.

He could have put his focus on what the Republican and Democrats in Congress could jointly accomplish in this session. He could have singled out key Democratic chairpersons that he was interested in working with to accomplish specific goals.

He did not do those things, which shows that legislation is still not a priority for him or even for his speechwriters and strategists. And to top it all off, he actually suggested that the Democrats should not investigate him if they want to get anything else done.

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!

It was always going to be unlikely that the Trump administration would work productively with the Democratic House, but it would have been good politics to at least aspire to accomplishing something. With the right kind of message, Trump could have put great pressure on the Democrats to produce at least an infrastructure bill.

As for Trump’s assertion about the way things work, if there is no legislation then there’s nothing left for Congress to do but investigate his administration. That looks like where we’re headed.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.