THE BIG IDEA: Reading some of the news coverage this weekend, one might get the impression that Donald Trump’s failure to repeal Obamacare is akin to Woodrow Wilson not getting the League of Nations ratified. In other words, a fatal blow to his presidency. That’s hooey.
— Health care is a siren song that has seduced many presidents since Harry Truman called for a national insurance program in 1945. Bill Clinton, for instance, spent far more political capital on the issue than Trump during his first year as president. His party also controlled both chambers of Congress, and he too failed spectacularly. But Clinton bounced back and won reelection.
— Liberals mock Trump as ineffective at their own peril. Yes, it’s easy to joke about how Trump said during the campaign that he’d win so much people would get tired of winning. Both of his travel bans have been blocked – for now. An active FBI investigation into his associates is a big gray cloud over the White House. The president himself falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping him. His first national security adviser registered as a foreign agent after being fired for not being honest about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. His attorney general, at best, misled Congress under oath.
— Despite the chaos and the growing credibility gap, Trump is systematically succeeding in his quest to “deconstruct the administrative state,” as his chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon puts it. He’s pursued the most aggressive regulatory rollback since Ronald Reagan, especially on environmental issues, with a series of bills and executive orders. He’s placed devoted ideologues into perches from which they can stop aggressively enforcing laws that conservatives don’t like. By not filling certain posts, he’s ensuring that certain government functions will simply not be performed. His budget proposal spotlighted his desire to make as much of the federal bureaucracy as possible wither on the vine.
— Trump has been using executive orders to tie the hands of rule makers. He put in place a regulatory freeze during his first hours, mandated that two regulations be repealed for every new one that goes on the books and ordered a top-to-bottom review of the government with an eye toward shrinking it.
Any day now, Trump is expected to sign an executive order aimed at undoing Obama’s Clean Power Plan and end a moratorium on federal-land coal mining. This would ensure that the U.S. does not meet its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.
The administration is also preparing new executive orders to re-examine all 14 U.S. free trade agreements, including NAFTA, and the president could start to sign some of them this week.
— Trump plans to unveil a new White House office today with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and, potentially, privatize some government functions. “The Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump,” Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report. “Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to … create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements. … Kushner’s team is being formalized just as the Trump administration is proposing sweeping budget cuts across many departments, and members said they would help find efficiencies.”
Kushner’s ambitions are grand: “At least to start, the team plans to focus its attention on re-imagining Veterans Affairs; modernizing the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency; remodeling workforce-training programs; and developing ‘transformative projects’ under the banner of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, such as providing broadband Internet service to every American. In some cases, the office could direct that government functions be privatized, or that existing contracts be awarded to new bidders.”
Trump has already used it three times since February to kill regulations put into effect by the Obama administration: He eliminated the Interior Department’s stream protection rule, which barred coal-mining companies from conducting any activities that could permanently pollute streams and other sources of drinking water. He killed an SEC rule requiring oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. And he made it easier for the mentally ill to get guns by blocking the Social Security Administration from turning over certain data to the FBI.
Seven more bills to undo Obama regulations have passed both chambers of Congress and will soon be signed by the president. Among them: Rolling back worker safety regulations to track and reduce workplace injuries and deaths, reducing disclosure requirements for federal contractors and abolishing a rule that restricted certain kinds of hunting, such as trapping and aerial shooting, inside national wildlife refuges in Alaska.
Several more are in the pipeline. The Republican Senate last Thursday voted to repeal rules aimed at protecting consumers’ online data from Internet providers. Once the House passes the measure, and the president signs it, it will be vastly easier for broadband companies to sell and share your personal usage information for advertising purposes.
— He can’t pass legislation to repeal Obamacare, but Trump is weakening the pillars of the health care system from the inside so that he can blame Democrats for future problems. Although Paul Ryan acknowledged Friday that “Obamacare is the law of the land,” its survival or collapse in practical terms now rests with decisions that are in the president’s hands.
On his first night in office, the president directed federal agencies to ease the regulatory burden that the ACA has placed on consumers, the health-care industry and health-care providers. “So far, the main action stemming from that directive is a move by the Internal Revenue Service to process Americans’ tax refunds even if they fail to submit proof that they are insured, as the ACA requires,” Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin explain.
There are other steps the administration could take: “A major one would be to end cost-sharing subsidies the law provides to lower- and middle-income people with marketplace plans to help pay their deductibles and co-pays," Amy and Juliet note. "Another question is how the administration will handle the next enrollment season for ACA health plans, which will begin in November. The end of the most recent season coincided with Trump’s first days in office, and the new administration yanked some advertising meant to encourage sign-ups. … While a set of federal essential health benefits, required of health plans sold to individuals and small businesses, will now remain in law, federal health officials could narrow what they require, limiting prescription drugs, for instance, or the number of visits allowed for mental-health treatment or physical therapy. … The administration also could take advantage of a part of the ACA that, starting this year, lets health officials give states broad latitude to carry out the law’s goals.”
— Personnel is policy, and Trump has appointed several people who openly oppose the missions of the agencies they lead. “If you look at these Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction,” Bannon explained at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
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