How we vote is rarely a perfect reflection of our political desires, and our recent presidential election was probably the most dramatic example of that fact. While many Americans voted for change on Nov. 8, it isn’t at all clear that America will see the kind of change that most people, including President-elect Donald Trump, expected.
Even though policy discussion rarely emerged from the muck of the recent campaign, it is ultimately policy that will bring the “change” that people voted for. And on that front, I suspect many Trump supporters will be in for stunning disappointment.
Trump’s election, after all, was a repudiation of the establishment of both major parties. Yet the election left the establishment of the Republican Party firmly in charge in Washington, and that will put their agenda front and center beginning in January.
An experienced politician, who came into office with a clear set of priorities, an understanding of government and the legislative process, and an experienced staff with deep knowledge and contacts on Capitol Hill, might be able to effectively advance his or her agenda. But Trump has none of these assets and it’s going to make it very difficult to advance anything approaching a Trump agenda, whatever that might be.
Far from the change Trump promised, here’s what Americans can really expect over the next four years.
‰ Huge tax cuts for big business and the wealthy: Whatever Republicans say on the campaign trail, this is the one policy that is a guarantee whenever Republicans control the levers of power in Washington. America’s wealthiest companies and individuals will see hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts, while most Americans will see modest reductions at best, and many will likely pay more. Income inequality will continue to worsen.
‰ A ballooning federal budget deficit. The other hallmark of Republican control in Washington is out-of-control deficits. President Reagan exploded the deficit. President George W. Bush inherited a $200 billion budget surplus and left President Obama with a $1.3 trillion deficit. Obama has managed to cut the deficit by two-thirds during his presidency, but with the GOP back in charge, and passing out huge tax cuts, the deficit will spike. Mark this one down… it’s a virtual guarantee. Republicans will claim that deficits will fall from all the new business generated by their tax cuts, but this is, without a doubt, the most discredited theory in economics. It will not happen.
‰ Privatization of Medicare: Did you hear Donald Trump call for privatizing Medicare during the campaign? Neither did I, but that’s what Paul Ryan has in store for us. He wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare (you’ll have to work longer to qualify) and will provide beneficiaries with a voucher that they’ll use to buy insurance from the private sector.
This accomplishes a number of Republican goals, but the most significant is that it means that the insurance industry will be able to siphon off fully 20 cents of every payroll tax dollar that currently goes to pay for medical services for Medicare beneficiaries.
It also means that Medicare will no longer have the negotiating power with health care providers that it currently has. As a single-payer system with a massive pool of beneficiaries, Medicare has the buying power to hold down some of the increases in the cost of health care services. By breaking up the pool among many private insurers, it allows the hospitals and clinics to charge more. The individual insurers don’t have the leverage of Medicare, so the cost of medical services will jump and Medicare premiums will inevitably rise in response. The value of the vouchers won’t keep pace, leaving seniors to foot an ever larger piece of their medical costs out-of-pocket.
Indeed, the Medicare changes envisioned by Paul Ryan essentially convert a simple and automatic system into the equivalent of the Obamacare exchanges, which have been such a mess. Medicare beneficiaries will have to hassle each year looking for cheaper plans as the increases in premiums continuously outstrip the value of the vouchers that the Republicans will provide. Baby boomers who were looking forward to Medicare will be in for a shock.
‰ Little new investment in infrastructure. Trump campaigned on making America great again, and a major investment in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure was a big part of this plan. But the Republicans in Congress spent eight years blocking every attempt by President Obama to invest in job-creating reconstruction of our roads, bridges, airports, and other critical needs. They are unlikely to show any more interest under a Trump administration, particularly since such investments require tax dollars and they’ll be focused on ensuring the wealthy contribute even less to federal coffers than they do today.
This is one area where Trump has more in common with Democrats than the Republicans who now control policy in Washington.
‰ Little job creation in the energy sector: Remember all the talk of Obama’s supposed war on coal? And how a Trump administration would get the coal and oil patch working again? It was effective in a stump speech, but I assume even Trump recognizes that the downturn in the energy sector was driven almost entirely by the sharp decline in energy prices since 2015. Coal is vanishing because there’s so much cheap natural gas available now that coal is no longer as competitive as it was. You can’t reverse those kinds of market forces, no matter who is in the White House.
What’s more, cheap energy prices are a reflection of too much production chasing too little demand. Tens of thousands of people have been laid off from the energy sector, but it’s not because of any Obama administration policy. It’s because no company wants to flush money creating unneeded production capacity. Until energy prices rise again, there won’t be a jobs recovery in this industry, no matter how much a President Trump wants to “drill, baby, drill.”
‰ A system that’s even more rigged: Trump was right that the political system in our nation’s capital is rigged to the benefit of those at the top. But that’s only going to be furthered with the GOP in charge. Democrats might throw the average American an occasional bone, but Republicans don’t even bother to do that. The special interest lobbyists are already licking their chops.
The bottom line is this: Trump may be in the White House, but its Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell who will be calling the policy shots come January. So settle in, it’s going to be a bumpy four years.