This week President Trump crossed party lines to get a deal done that included relief for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, fund the government for the rest of the year and most controversially increase the debt limit for another three months. This was met with derision from the conservative wing of House Republicans but in the end passed with a strong vote in excess of 300 House members. Of the 90 that voted against the deal all were Republicans.
So does this mean that we might be entering a new era of compromise and bipartisanship? I don’t think so. What this does mean is that Trump finally had to act like a President and cut a deal in Congress by compromising for the short term. It also meant that he turned his back on the Republican leadership who will now have to deal with the recalcitrant members who opposed the deal. This will leave Speaker Ryan in a difficult position as he tries to unify his already fractured caucus.
So what actually happened in this deal. There was strong agreement on relief funding for Texas and particularly Houston. This was a natural disaster and Congress has always tried to be unified in response to such disasters. There is also a strong level of support for getting the government funded since everyone knows that shutting down the government is a sum-zero game. But raising the national debt limit is another issue. This is always controversial, as it should be, since we are now in excess of $20 Trillion in debt. At some point, especially to those conservatives that are budget hawks, we have to address the debt and devise a plan to not only stop the growth of the national debt but to find a way to start reducing that debt. Since the Republicans would not have enough votes to pass this on their own President Trump had to turn to the Democrats to secure the necessary votes. That meant he would have to kick the can down the road for three months instead of eighteen months as the Republican leadership wanted. They wanted to take this off the table prior to the mid-term elections and the Democrats wanted to keep the issue alive and allow the Republicans to twist in the wind as they tried to muster votes on their own to extend the limit. We will be up against this once again in December and the stakes will only have increased.
So are we going to start compromising on issues and actually have a productive Congress? If any of the initial efforts are indicators the answer is probably no. I think that everyone knows that ObamaCare is floundering and insurance companies are either abandoning the program or asking for steep rate increases. The amount of choices available to consumers in many states has dwindled to one. Alaska jumped into the news with reports that premiums were jumping 200%. The Washington Post fact checker tried to assuage the critics by pointing out that premiums were in fact going up but when you factored into the equation the tax credits people received they were not as severe. This is purely gloss on the problem. It was ObamaCare that started providing tax credits to people as a form of government subsidy. Those costs start to add up and to pretend they are not adding to the government deficit is pure folly. This was one of the major failing of the original ACA bill. It tended to front load the good things and bring the costs of these in later when Obama would be out of office and the next President would have to deal with the increases in either premiums or subsidies.
I have written before that anytime the government gets involved in something as large as healthcare there will be winners and losers. The winners are the people getting a large subsidy from the government (over half of the population is getting some form of subsidy) and the losers are those that don’t qualify for a subsidy and have to purchase their insurance on the marketplace. Those prices are inflated because the insurers know the government is subsidizing them. Most of these people are small business owners who don’t have either the government or an employer providing their health care.
So now we need a compromise to address this crisis in healthcare. Since the Republicans could not repeal ObamaCare something has to be done. The Democrats have demanded that the government increase the subsidies to ensure people can avoid large premium increases. This is double speak since the premiums are actually rising but by increasing the subsidy the purchaser would not have to put out money from their own pocket. To the average buyer this seems like a good deal since he thinks it is saving him money. He does not realize it is increasing the national debt which will cost him money in the long run. Republicans have said they will consider an increase in subsidies but Democrats will have to allow states to restructure what has to be included in medical plans. The Democrats say absolutely not. So much for compromise. Their version is increase the subsidies and don’t touch the plans.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch warned in a Washington Post op-ed on Friday against a “bailout” from the subsidy payments and said a bill would need to include “relief for American families and job creators from the onerous mandates and taxes.” He fully realizes that you cannot keep spending without any consideration of how to repay the debt.
The next item up for a possible compromise involves immigration reform. President Trump has announced that he is considering repealing the Executive Order that allows the children brought to the United States by parents to remain in the country. DACA (Deferred Action for Child Arrivals) is controversial and Democrats around the country are demanding that Trump back down. What he has done is actually the smartest move (when have we said that about Trump) he could have made. There is strong agreement that President Obama did not have the authority to do what he did when he made the Executive Order in 2012. The court case has been stalled and Republican AGs around the country wrote a letter announcing they would force the case without action. They are also concerned about a second Executive Order by Obama that is DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) which allows anyone that entered the country illegally and had a child while here to in effect gain amnesty from deportation. These two orders effectively granted amnesty to a significant number of people.
What Trump has done is told Congress to do their job and address this thorny issue. It is their job to pass immigration laws and to resolve these problems. Republicans would be heavily criticized if they were to try and deport millions of people but at the same time Democrats want everyone to be granted some form of amnesty because they see them as potential Democrat voters. Republicans want some form of border security to be included in any deal on DACA while Democrats ignore the need to secure our borders. Trump has deferred action on DACA for up to six months giving Congress the opportunity to find a legislative solution. The solution is staring them in the face but requires compromise. The deal should include allowing those under DACA to remain in the U.S. so long as they meet the standards in place. In exchange it should be made clear that in the future no such deals will apply and there will have to be strong border enforcement. That would allow each side to claim some form of victory but if the past is any indicator of the actions of both sides that compromise might be elusive. The truth is we have passed immigration bills in the past only to ignore them and be faced with a new crisis some years later. The reason is a major failure of border security. It did not help the situation when as President Barrack Obama sent a subliminal message that encouraged people in Central America to make a beeline to the United States. The DACA order basically told them if they could get their children into the U.S. the children would be allowed to stay and they would also probably be allowed to stay. Immigration swelled in those couple of years. It had been reduced to record low numbers during the Trump Presidency because of the implied threat that you will be deported.
So what I would like to see from Congress, as readers of this blog know, is Republicans and Democrats working together to solve some problems. It means giving in on some things to achieve others. If you stick to your guns on a my way or the highway mentality it will mean that nothing gets done and the losers in that equation are the American public.
Once again, if you have any comments on this subject please feel free to leave them in the comments section.