Until lately, Democrats have been comforting themselves over Trump’s nearly unbroken string of legislative losses. Despite a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, Trump and different factions of the GOP kept tripping over each other, denying him key legislative victories. His penchant for insulting leading Republican senators only adds to the dysfunction.
Now, however, Trump may actually win a few. Consider the Affordable Care Act.
Trump has found a way to cripple it via executive power, first by withholding insurance subsidies that are key to making the program affordable.
By doing so, he destabilizes insurance markets, and courts the indignant opposition of every major medical and hospital group, as well as the insurance industry and many Republican politicians whose constituents have gained coverage under the ACA. But Trump’s sick obsession is to expunge anything that Barack Obama created, and hang the consequences.
He can further cripple the ACA by altering the rules to allow cheap insurance products with immense deductibles and co-pays to be offered by small businesses, thus technically meeting the test that they offer their employees insurance, even though these junk products are not legitimate insurance at all. And he can do additional harm by changing the rules and federal subsidy terms for Medicaid, reducing coverage there as well. The result of all of this is to do devastating damage to poor, working-class, and some middle-class Americans—many of whom voted for Trump.
The gutting of subsidized and regulated health coverage is another of Trump’s uses of racism. Beneficiaries of these programs are disproportionally black. Yet a majority are actually white. Thanks to the ACA, white non-coverage has declined at a steeper rate than for blacks and Latinos.
Trump is spinning his gutting of health coverage as the result of fatal flaws of Obamacare. But this is nonsense. A year from now, millions of Americans will be paying more money for less coverage, and many will lose coverage entirely. This will be entirely Trump’s doing. The challenge of setting the record straight is difficult, since insurance is such a complex mess.
There is still a chance that pushback from medical and hospital groups, as well as from Republican politicians fearing constituent backlash, will temper some of the worst aspects of Trump’s grand design to gut health insurance for Americans. As his Iran policy shows, Trump sometimes does settle for symbolic wins — but this will take massive organizing and public education.
Consider also the tax cut. Here again, despite all manner of schisms and mutual insults, Trump and the Republicans may yet prevail.
Keep in mind that cutting taxes on rich people and corporations has been the prime Republican objective going back to Ronald Reagan. Taxes were cut under every Republican president ever since, and three times just under Bush II. No matter how much Trump and key Republican senators loathe each other, the goal of further tax cutting trumps even their distaste for Trump.
The script never changes: Claim that trickle-down tax cuts for the rich will stimulate the economy and that the resulting growth will help everyone. When the cuts mainly produce larger deficits, express horror, and cut program outlays. Rinse and repeat.
Just to gull the workaday, non-millionaire rubes who are being harmed, throw in some token tax relief for them, too — even though the lion’s share goes to the rich. Nobody believes the economics, but the politics are superb.
A key player here is Tennessee senator Bob Corker. In addition to being the latest in a long line of GOP leaders insulted by Trump, Corker happens to be one of the last of a dying breed of Republicans who actually care about deficits.
Corker is on record as declaring that if the tax cut adds a penny to the deficit, “there is no way in hell I’m voting for it.” And that was before the latest round of insult-trading.
Still, whether the tax cut adds to the (projected) deficit is entirely a matter of what sort of creative accounting one uses. I would place the odds at better than 50-50 that the Republicans come up with some kind of a tax cut for the rich that even Bob Corker can vote for.
Despite the fact that Corker gives as good as he gets when it comes to calling out Trump, he is far from the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt. We have reached a point in the Republican Party where an ordinary far-right conservative, as opposed to a total lunatic, looks like a reasonable person.
Where does this leave the Democrats? They need to redouble their efforts to explain that on health policy and tax policy, Trump is screwing not just the rest of America, but tens of millions of people who voted for him. Let’s see if they can do that.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His forthcoming book, to be published by W.W. Norton in 2018, is Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?
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