Over the last week, the mood in conservative media has been jolly. The GOP passed their tax cut bill and made it out of 2017 without a goose egg in the major legislation column. Moreover, many of President Trump’s conservative skeptics have been posting story after story saying they’ve been pleasantly surprised by everything from the Supreme Court to a conservative agenda. Not every “Never Trumper” is on board, but many have acknowledged the President didn’t show his liberal colors in 2017.
2018 will be a different story.
Before I go into what those liberal agenda items are, we need to understand why he’ll do it. Some of them were campaign promises that he simply couldn’t get to in 2017. Others are moderate to liberal ideas that will foster bipartisan support. This is necessary in a midterm election year because it does two things for the President.
First, it gives him the Reaganesque allure that disarmed even the harshest Democrats in 1982. When things are accomplished through bipartisanship, everyone gets to take credit. The Democrats will say they got parts of their agenda passed despite being in the worst possible power situation. Republicans and the President will say they’re the party that crosses the aisle when America’s future is at stake.
Second, it gives him goodwill with Democrats. In the event the Democrats take over either or both chambers of Congress, the President will want bargaining chips with them. Pushing some of the items below will make Democrats begrudgingly grateful to the President. They won’t praise him publicly, but they’ll be happy to take whatever he’s willing to give.
What’s on the GOP’s agenda for 2018? Here are some of the liberal items we’ll likely see in play until election day.
Massive infrastructure spending
There’s a question that’s always necessary when anyone proposes a $1 trillion plan for… anything. Infrastructure, which definitely needs to be addressed, is one such big-ticket item that should make every conservative ask, “How are we going to pay for it?”
The public-private gambit that the President may or may not be still considering would take some of the impact off the budget deficit, but probably not to the tune of 80% as originally proposed. Even if it does, $200 billion doesn’t magically appear out of thin air, at least now that Barack Obama is out of the White House.
President Trump will appeal to something similar to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s infrastructure plan in hopes of getting bipartisan support. As with any massive spending plan proposed by the Democrats, this one will increase the debt and balloon the budget deficit for the sake of temporary jobs and the populist voter magnet of fixing roads, bridges, dams, and other elements that keep the nation moving.
It’s a noble cause. It’s a need we have. Until they come up with a solid plan for funding through massive cuts in other areas, it’s nothing more than a liberal maneuver with the GOP’s stamp of approval.
Making DACA permanent
To this day, there are still plenty of people on both sides of the political aisle who think President Trump put an end to President Obama’s DACA program. Technically, he did by rescinding the executive order with one of his own.
The reality is that President Trump’s goal is not to end DACA as promised during the campaign but to solidify it by making it the law. He reversed the executive order, but he did so with a six-month window for Congress to fix it and a demand that they do exactly that.
We will not see DACA end as promised. We will see it made much stronger than it was when it was simply an annoying executive order. Once it’s a piece of legislation signed by the President, up to three million “Dreamers” will have an official status as permanent residents. Whether they call it “amnesty” or spin it in some way to classify it differently, it really is amnesty.
Killing free trade
In a circumstance reminiscent of 1984, many GOP voters are on board with the President’s push for “fair trade.” As a result, many Republicans on Capitol Hill are following suit. We’re witnessing a drastic shift from standard GOP dogma of “free trade” towards its natural enemy, “fair trade.”
The President will go after China, India, the European Union, and any trading partners the President deems to be taking advantage of bad deals from the past. He’ll want to change those deals and promote his “America First” business ideology.
Here’s the problem. As recently as 2015, Republicans polled in favor of unrestricted free trade. That changed rapidly once candidate Trump started painting free trade as a fairness problem with the United States as the victim. The message stuck and today most Republicans are all over his push for trade restrictions that the President hopes will lead to more manufacturing in the U.S.
It will work to some extent, but the cost is greater than the benefit. There’s no argument that many of the big trade deals are lopsided. The problem: we are a consumers’ capitalist nation. Tariffs sound great until the next iPhone retails for $1400.
The dreadful individual mandate has been snubbed as much as it could be in the tax bill. It’s still there (contrary to popular belief) but the penalty is zero, so it’s effectively gone temporarily.
Conservatives cheered about this and rightfully so. Now, the consequences must be addressed. By killing off the individual mandate, a certain number of people will be dropping their coverage. That means premiums and deductibles are likely to go up based on how many people bail out of the system.
What’s the GOP to do? They can’t just let it push up healthcare costs in an election year. They need premiums and deductibles to behave as they’ve done recently. A spike in costs is unacceptable.
That means something will be on the table in 2018 to fix it. Whether that’s trying to get a repeal and replacement bill up and running or expanding subsidies to bribe insurance companies into keeping costs static, they will take necessary actions to mitigate damage in hopes that it won’t be a major issue in the midterms.
In other words, we’re going to still have government-run health insurance alive and well in 2018 despite promises made by that majority of GOP lawmakers for the previous seven years.
This is the wildcard. It could go either way. Will they take it down a similar path as Bill Clinton’s welfare reform? That happened to be temporary and isolated act of conservatism by Clinton. Can President Trump and the GOP do better?
They can. That doesn’t mean they will. As part of an effort to appeal to the millions of Americans receiving some sort of welfare, the GOP may “improve” the welfare system by somehow expanding it. We won’t know until the real talking points are released. On this particular item, I’m at least a little hopeful they won’t mess it up even worse than it already is.
It’s not all bad, though
There are conservative items on the agenda, too. The President is allegedly open to tackling entitlements despite running on preserving them. This is unlikely, but one can hope. He will push hard for the wall knowing he might not get a chance at funding if the GOP loses control of the House or Senate. Military spending will likely increase after modest bumps in 2017. Planned Parenthood may finally see funding pulled.
What the President accomplished through executive orders as well as the tax bill are all worthy of praise from conservatives. He’s done well by the economy and has given us an air of strength on the international stage that we’d lost the eight years prior. Then, there’s the Jerusalem move which is arguably his boldest. I don’t want to sound unappreciative. I’m simply worried that 2018 is going to be the softening of his agenda that I’ve feared from the start.