Ben Roback is a Senior Account Executive at Cicero Group and a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leader’s UK programme.
The White House has attempted a series of resets in the less than 200 days since it has been in office, and for as long as President Trump retains unrestricted access to Twitter controversies will continue.
But in the past fortnight, Trump has begun to try and balance tumultuous tweeting and policy.
While there is little tangible policy to speak of yet, signs are emerging that the presidential operation is maturing. Policy priorities have emerged across three strands: healthcare, tax reform and foreign affairs.
Repealing and replacing Obamacare
Gutting Obamacare has been the pipe dream of Republicans ever since it was signed into law by President Obama in March 2010. In the coming fortnight, they will get their chance as the American Healthcare Act progresses through the Senate.
For a policy proposal that will affect one sixth of the American economy and well over 20 million people, the scrutiny process has been alarmingly expedited. Press reports suggest the Senate committee charged with scrutinising and amending the bill – comprised of thirteen Republican men – will publish the text at the end of the week.
Days after, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to publish its analysis of the financial impact, in effect playing the role of the ONS or IFS. Given the CBO score is expected to paint a clear picture of precisely how many Americans will be left uninsured under the bill, it is no surprise Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants a final vote before the July 4th recess so that lawmakers cannot face their constituents during the break. As a result, a final vote could come as early as Thursday next week.
The bill’s passage represents the kind of ‘behind closed doors’ approach that Republicans scolded President Obama and Democrats for in 2009-10. But process aside, the critical details in this bill remain largely unknown. How will it impact Americans with pre-existing conditions, and how many fall into that bracket?
While the CBO score next week will tell us how many Americans will lose out, we know at this stage who stands to gain the most. As FiveThirtyEight wrote this week: ‘While the Senate Republicans’ bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has been shrouded in secrecy, at least one thing is all but certain: The final bill will include hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts, mostly for the richest Americans.’
The outcome is of major national importance, and the process is only a beltway issue. But it does point to the increasing trend of this White House and Congress keeping as many of its dealings behind closed doors as possible. Americans aren’t impressed – a CBS news poll found 73 per cent of respondents believe that Senate Republicans should discuss their plans publicly, and only 25 per cent say it should be privately.
In the long term, Republicans need to ensure the policy itself is much more popular than the manner in which it was cobbled together. With over 20 million Americans set to lose out, that looks difficult.
Tax is looking fairly taxing
Healthcare is not the only policy agenda on the table. This week, House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a keynote speech on tax reform, the jewel in the crown of the Republican Party.
He called for tax reform by the end of 2017, a tight and ambitious timeframe given the absence of legislation in this congressional cycle so far. Unlikely to feature in that plan is the Border Adjustment Tax, which would have raised the cost of imports but lowered the cost of exports.
Ryan admitted that his plan lacks support within the White House, and so the BAT will almost certainly be dropped – to the relief of retailers.
Before that, the White House will unveil a tax plan that is more detailed than the one-page summary it published in April. Senior administration officials stressed during a meeting with the financial services industry that a plan would be published towards the end of the summer. The fight for tax reform will then begin in the House of Representatives.
Trump flexes his muscles abroad
“Prince Philip and I look forward to welcoming Their Majesties King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain on a State Visit in July”, Her Majesty the Queen said in her speech to parliament yesterday. There followed no mention of a visit by President Trump and with no Queen’s Speech in 2018 POTUS’ visit may come in 2019 at the earliest.
In spite of that, the White House has been busy on the world stage, from Cuba to Russia to North Korea.
In Miami, the president claimed he was ripping up the deal agreed by President Obama on reset US-Cuban relations, but in reality many of those reforms remain in place. New proposals aim to isolate the Cuban regime and create a sense of political instability that acts as a deterrent to Foreign Direct Investment.
In the Middle East, Jared Kushner was re-engaged as peace envoy and White House fixer. More pressingly, military conflicts threaten to destabilise an already volatile region. An American jet shot down a Syrian government plane, which led Russia to condemn the action and declare it an “act of aggression”.
Days later, having secured the release of Otto Warmbier from the cruel clutches of North Korea, the young American died having been returned in a coma. President Trump reacted the best way he knows how – tweeting his raw feelings “At least I know China tried”. It was the latest in a series of foreign policy challenges that this White House is wrestling at once.
Putting allegations of Russian interference, hyper-partisanship in Congress and lawyers hiring lawyers aside, and whether you agree with the detail or not, it is at least refreshing to see the Trump White House seriously engage with policy.