We are on the cusp of a new era in U.S. politics. Over the course of the next four years some very different policies will unfold. Some will be hard to understand and we won’t always know what they intend to accomplish. But perhaps if we look into the philosophy of the Republican Party — the soul of the beast as it were — we can gain some insight.
Immigration was on everyone’s tongue during the 2016 presidential campaign. So President Donald Trump has attempted to move quickly on his signature issue with executive orders, stepped up enforcement and deportations of illegals. And he is still talking about the border wall.
In the Senate, Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton is pushing a bill that would reduce “legal” immigration by 50 percent over the next decade. The GOP claims that their immigration policies keep Americans safe and protect American jobs. But there is no doubt in my mind that the real reason the GOP wants to limit immigration is because Latinos, Asians and other immigrants tend to vote for Democrats.
Tax reform is a high priority for Republicans this year. Both Trump and the U.S. House initially proposed tax plans that would add significantly to the deficits. Since increasing deficits is not popular we may hear Speaker of the House Paul Ryan talk about a plan that will be “revenue neutral” and that will “broaden the base.” Revenue neutral means that federal revenues will neither increase nor decrease. Broaden the base means that revenue will be collected from more sources like the border adjustment tax that ends up being paid by middleclass and lower income consumers. But one thing is certain; the wealthy will get a big tax cut.
The GOP mantra has always been that cutting taxes grows the economy. I’m sorry; the economy doesn’t always work that way. President George W. Bush engineered large tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 but they mostly resulted in much higher deficits. And Bush ended eight years in office with the country going headlong into the Great Recession and with the worse job creation record, on record according to the Wall Street Journal.
And then there is Kansas Tea Party Gov. Sam Brownback, the poster child for disastrous tax cuts. Kansas budgets have been drowning in red ink under his tax plan and the legislature projects a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years. Way to go Sam!
But I don’t think Republicans care about such clear examples. In my opinion their goal is all about limiting the size of the federal government; and their mentor is Grover Norquist. Grover is the architect of the pledge to never raise taxes on anything, and he loves tax cuts. Libertarian Norquist’s objective is to shrink government by cutting off its revenue and forcing drastic spending cuts. Most congressional Republicans have signed his pledge.
So as Congress begins to legislate next month on tax reform, an Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) replacement or Trump’s infrastructure plan, here are some political realities that will affect negotiations: There are 200 or so members of the far-right House Republican Study Committee (RSC) and the House Freedom Caucus, which is chaired by North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows. They are totally against increased federal spending for anything other than defense and they so strongly reject to deficit spending that they voted to default on the nation’s debt in February 2014.
Last March the RSC rolled out an “alternative” fiscal year 2017 budget that would cut taxes significantly, cut spending by $8.6 trillion over the next 10 years and grow defense spending every year. These cuts would reduce government spending by almost 17 percent.
But never mind the numbers; the point is that these conservatives won’t be enthusiastic about a costly Obamacare replacement or Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan. And they have the clout to block any legislation in the House that requires almost total GOP support.
Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich is understandably very concerned about what happens to Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion. Together they provide health care to 700,000 of his constituents. And he knows all about the Freedom Caucus and the RSC. In his opinion the House conservatives will not likely vote for an Obamacare replacement plan if it retains any of the key components of Obamacare. In fact, he believes they want to trash the entire law, period.
These conservatives received support from a January 2017 report from the Congressional Budget Office that encouraged President Trump and the new Congress to make deficit reduction a top priority. No doubt they will use this report as a cudgel in upcoming negotiations.
President Trump will be speaking to Congress tomorrow night. It could be a scolding because he wants faster action on a number of issues. But listen to what he says about his budget that is due in Congress soon. If he talks about trillions in spending cuts and a huge tax cut we will have some idea of his agenda. But either way, March should be a political knock down drag out month.