Home / General / The Third Term of the Bush Administration, With Even Less Competence

The Third Term of the Bush Administration, With Even Less Competence

Still their hero!
Still their hero!

Another feature of breathless “Donald Trump put on a suit and read lines off a teleprompter, he is TRULY AMERICA’S PRESIDENT” coverage will surely be stories about how Democrats should handle things like his Very Serious (note: it isn’t) infrastructure proposal. Mainstream pundits will be at least as determined as the Trump-threat-minimizers of the “left” to see Trump as a DIFFERENT KIND OF REPUBLICAN who might build highways like Ike and bust trusts like Taft. So it’s worth another reminder that on domestic policy Trump is an utterly bog-standard Republican:

What is the substance of the supposed schism between Trump and the regular GOP? The Times depicts the president and the House Speaker as split over whether to cut “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” But, while Ryan has made it known that he would like to cut Social Security (a position that has won him immense inside-the-Beltway Establishment credibility), he has not persuaded his party to go along. The “Better Way” plan crafted by Ryan and endorsed by House Republicans makes no mention of Social Security at all. It does propose privatizing Medicare, but only for workers who are not retired or are near retirement — which means, despite its long-term significance, it has no impact on the budget over the next decade. And both Trump and Ryan are planning deep cuts to Medicaid.

Incidentally, the fact that Social Security is the one New Deal program that Ryan isn’t even trying to touch is yet another triumph for BULLY PULTPITING THE OVERTON WINDOW. Back to our story:

The similarities continue. Both favor increases in defense spending and dramatically weaker enforcement of labor, environmental, and financial regulation. Both favor deep cuts to anti-poverty spending. Trump is more enthusiastic than the regular GOP about infrastructure spending, but he has decided to postpone that issue until next year and use it as an election messaging vehicle rather than a real legislative priority. Most important, both agree that large, upper-income tax cuts are the party’s highest priority. Trump has even endorsed Ryan’s legislative strategy of sequencing Obamacare repeal first in order to grease the skids for bigger tax cuts. (“Statutorily and for budget purposes, as you know, we have to do health care before we do the tax cut,” he said this week.)

It is true, as conservatives say, that Trump’s budget numbers do not really add up. But he is relying on the same voodoo economics assumptions that are de rigeur in his party. “The money is going to come from a revved-up economy,” Trump said on Fox & Friends. “I mean, you look at the kind of numbers we’re doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1 percent. And if I can get that up to 3, maybe more, we have a whole different ballgame.” Remember that ultra-Establishment Republican Jeb Bush promised tax cuts and deregulation would produce 4 percent growth, so Trump’s 3 percent growth promise is actually moderate and realistic by Republican fiscal standards.

The illusion that Trump has radically altered his party’s agenda is convenient for all sides. Trump ran a wildly unconventional race, and won several blue states in part by presenting himself as an economic populist. He is surrounded by a handful of advisers who fashion themselves strategic geniuses on a world-historic scale, not just hacks attached to the president who’s going to sign whatever Paul Ryan puts in front of him. They have every personal and institutional incentive to play up their ideological novelty. The infamous Steves Bannon and Miller have not really innovated Republican policy in any major field. They have taken sides with a long-standing minority right-wing faction in Congress that opposes free trade, viscerally hates immigration, and longs to use terrorism and crime as racial edge issues. The politicians who pioneered those Trump-y ideas in Congress, like Michele Bachmann and Jeff Sessions — Miller’s former bosses — also endorsed standard-issue Republicanomics. At CPAC, Steve Bannon grandly promised to set about “deconstructing the administrative state.” But this is just a pretentious way of saying he wants to cut regulation and bureaucracy, which is a goal of every Republican leader since Reagan. The only twist is that the guy saying it wears black shirts and no tie.

Ryan/McConnell/Trump will definitely produce lots of deregulation of powerful interests. It will mean definitely mean packing the federal judiciary with neoconfederates. It will almost certainly mean massive upper-class tax cuts funded mostly by debt, although if they can’t pull off ACA repeal they will most likely have to sunset after a decade like the Bush tax cuts. There will be cuts to programs for the poor, probably worse than under Bush but not surprising from Republicans. The ACA is more vulnerable than Social Security was in 2005, but while there will almost certainly be some damage inflicted at the margins, full repeal is less likely by the day, which would be consistent with the failure of Reagan conservatives to kill the major programs of the New Deal and Great Society. Having someone in the White House even less competent and informed than Bush makes the heavier lifts even less likely, but it’s very possible ACA repeal would have collapsed even with a more conventional politician in the White House.

And what the Democratic response should be remains as obvious as ever, both on the merits and politically: “no.” Stop as much as you can and make them own what they are able to do. Period, and not in the Sean Spicer sense.

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