We have a pretty good idea of what President-elect Trump’s priorities are:
Faster Economic Growth, accomplished with tax and regulatory reform, to create more jobs and higher paying jobs for the blue-collar middle class.
Rethinking NAFTA and TPP to make sure that American companies and workers are not being penalized by unfair trade agreements.
Immigration Reform to make sure that law-breaking illegal immigrants are deported and then figuring out some sort of legal (guest worker?) status for the remainder.
What remains to be determined is the role of Congress under the new administration. Utah’s Senator Mike Lee makes a very strong argument that one of the biggest problems with American government is the weak authority of Congress in recent years and the need for Congress to reassert itself.
With a new president who is more populist than partisan, now is an excellent opportunity for Congress to do exactly this. Here is what Congress should do:
Reinstitute annual budgeting and appropriations for executive branch agencies. This is essential for controlling how the funds are spent.
Pass new legislation for healthcare, tax reform, immigration policy and financial regulation, giving up lazy policy delegation to the executive branch and relearning the art of legislating and collective choice.
Cry foul if President Trump tries to settle these and other momentous matters through Obama-style executive decrees without legislative input.
Conclusion. Our system needs the disruption which Donald Trump will provide and that is why he got elected. But at the same time Congress has a golden opportunity to restore its prerogatives which have withered away in recent years. It would be a shame if Congress doesn’t take this golden opportunity to get this done.
I want to emphasize that I voted for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday because Donald Trump has such a sleazy and mercurial personality. But Mr. Trump was clearly the change candidate and we need change big time. His strongest base of support is the white working class which has not really recovered from the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and he will surely try to help out these people.
Here are the changes we need in order of importance:
Grow the economy faster. Tax reform, individual and corporate, and regulatory reform are what are most needed. Mr. Trump and the House Republicans are in rough agreement on both of these major initiatives and hopefully the new Republican led Senate will go along. The best kind of tax reform means to lower tax rates and shrink deductions enough to avoid losing tax revenue. This can be accomplished if a real effort is made to do it this way.
Begin to shrink our massive debt. This can only be done by major entitlement reform, meaning to control the costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare should be transitioned over from a single payer system to a premium support system, consistent with a reformed Affordable Care Act. Healthcare costs can only be contained by giving consumers more skin in the game, meaning higher deductibles supplemented with health savings accounts.
More assertive foreign policy. Worldwide peace and stability depend on our own economic and military strength. Right now China, Russia and Iran think they can push us around. President Trump will not let this happen.
Trade and immigration policy. Most knowledgeable people agree that international trade is generally beneficial. We simply have to do a better job of retraining American workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition. The key to immigration reform is tougher border security plus an effective guest worker visa program.
Conclusion. The Republican House of Representatives has an excellent plan, “A Better Way,” for American economic, fiscal and social renewal and Mr. Trump is largely supportive of it. This augers well for fundamental progress in the next four years.
In my last two posts, here and here, I have said that I like some of Donald Trump’s policy ideas but he is too personally repugnant for me to support and vote for. Hillary Clinton is morally less objectionable than Mr. Trump but her economic policy proposals are unlikely to have much success. The best hope for our country is to keep the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives. They have put together an excellent plan, “A Better Way,” for reviving the American economy and boosting the American spirit. Its main principles are:
Poverty. Every capable person is expected to work or prepare for work. Poverty fighting programs will be directed to get people back on their feet. The poor will have more opportunities to succeed at every stage.
National Security. It is a top priority to defeat radical Islamic extremism. We must restore American influence, advance free enterprise and expand the community of free nations.
The Economy. We need to take a smarter approach that cuts down on needless regulations while making the rules we do need more efficient, especially for our small businesses.
The Constitution. Agencies and bureaucracies should be subject to more scrutiny from Congress. Give Congress more say – and the final word – over what is being spent and why it is being spent.
Health Care. Individuals should have more control and more choices in order to improve quality and lower costs. No one should have to worry about having coverage taken away regardless of age, income or medical conditions.
Tax Reform. The tax code should be simpler, fairer and flatter while remaining progressive. It should be constructed to create jobs, raise wages and expand opportunity for all Americans.
Conclusion. These principles are widely supported by almost all Republicans in Congress and are more important than specific differences on immigration, trade, or entitlement policy. Their serious consideration depends upon returning a Republican controlled House in 2017.
As I occasionally remind my readers, I am a non-ideological fiscal conservative and a registered independent. In November I will vote for the presidential candidate who has the most credible plan to address what I consider to be our country’s two more serious problems:
Slow Economic Growth, only 2.1% per year for the past seven years since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. Faster growth will create more jobs and bigger wage gains for America’s workers.
Massive Debt. Our public debt (on which we pay interest) is now 75% of GDP, the highest it has been since the end of WWII, and likely to keep getting worse unless strong measures are taken to prevent this from happening.
According to current polls, Hillary Clinton is strongly predicted to be elected our next president. However her policy proposals will do little, if anything, to stimulate economic growth and are likely to make our debt much worse than it already is. Donald Trump has a strong base of support among working class whites who are suffering in today’s economy and blame illegal immigration and unfair foreign trade for their woes. However this base of support, while large enough for Mr. Trump to win the Republican nomination, is not nearly large enough to bring victory in November. The only way Mr. Trump can win is to greatly expand his base of support by appealing to moderate Republicans and Independents who are highly concerned about the direction our country is taking. The best and most direct way for him to do this is to endorse the reform program, “A Better Way,” developed by the Republican House of Representatives, under Speaker Paul Ryan. This reform program has already unified the fractious Republicans in the House, and could easily serve as a vehicle for unifying the entire Republican party as well as many independents.
In my next post I will delineate how the Trump platform could easily mesh with “A Better Way.”
It is now almost certain that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President and that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. The two biggest problems facing our country today are:
Slow economic growth, averaging just 2.1% since the end of the recession in June 2009, seven years ago. Even though unemployment is down to 5%, stagnant wages for the middle class have not nearly recovered from their pre-recession high.
Massive debt. The public debt (on which we pay interest) is now at 74% of GDP and rising. When interest rates go up, as they surely will eventually, debt payment will rise by hundreds of billions of dollars per year and be a huge drain on government revenues.
The likely Presidential nominees are not adequately addressing these problems:
Hillary Clinton wants to increase government spending by about $100 billion per year to be spent on various new programs and raise the top tax rate to 45% to pay for them. This will do nothing to either grow the economy faster or shrink our already sizable deficit.
Donald Trump has promised to keep entitlements as they are and spend more on infrastructure and defense. He also sees debt as useful. “I probably understand debt better than anybody” he has stated. His tax plan (which he says is negotiable) will create massive new debt.
If Clinton is elected, she may pull the Senate Democratic along with her. But either way the House of Representatives will likely remain Republican with Speaker Paul Ryan. Since the Republicans took over the House in 2010, they have consistently proposed budgets each year to shrink the deficit and produced a balanced budget within ten years. The new President, either Clinton or Trump, will have to negotiate their own ideas on spending and taxes with a fiscally conservative House.
The country is indeed very fortunate for this circumstance.
Yesterday I gave my second “Fix the Debt” presentation, this time to the Greater Omaha Kiwanis Club. The main slide (just below) is all they needed to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. Their main interest was “How do we fix it?” They listened politely to a bipartisan list of possible actions:
Policies that grow the economy
Health care cost containment
Social security reform
Defense spending cuts
Other spending cuts
Tax reform and tax expenditure cuts
Budget process reform
Then one member asked, “How about a balanced budget amendment?” and this became the focus of the discussion. A balanced budget amendment going forward would not pay off the debt but would stop adding to it. It would shrink the debt over time as a percentage of GDP as the economy continues to grow. This is the best we can do in a practical sense and represents a satisfactory solution. There are lots of problems, however, associated with passing a Balanced Budget Amendment:
First of all, it will be difficult to accomplish. It requires approval by a 2/3 vote of each house of Congress and ratification by ¾ of the states. This means that it could be stopped by just 13 state legislatures.
How would a BBA be enforced? By having the Supreme Court step in and require specific actions to raise taxes or cut spending? This seems problematic.
There would have to be a provision for override in the case of emergency (war or other catastrophe). A 2/3 vote by each house of Congress would be a logical way to handle a situation like this. But such a system could easily be abused.
The goal is to significantly shrink the debt as a percentage of GDP over time as the economy grows. This does not require a balanced budget but only that annual deficits be lower on average than annual growth of the economy. Representative Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” plan, for example, would shrink the debt by 30% over a 20 year period without a single annual balanced budget. The important thing is to shrink the debt as a percentage of the economy, and to get going on this as soon as possible. If it requires a somewhat rigid amendment to get this done, then that’s what we need to do!
“If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.”
Several weeks ago my post, “How to Improve America’s Welfare System,” described a new proposal from the House Budget Committee (Chair, Paul Ryan) to let selected states experiment in consolidating separate federal programs such as SNAP, TANF, child-care and housing assistance programs, into a new composite Opportunity Grant Program. The idea is to let participating states choose qualified providers who would then be held accountable for moving people off of assistance, out of poverty and into productive employment. A recent report from the Tax Foundation compares what families pay in taxes with what they receive in government benefits. In 2010, 60% of American families (with incomes up to $86,000) received more in federal benefits than they paid in federal taxes. However in 2012, this percentage grew to 70% (those families with incomes up to $109,000). In other words, the trend under Obama is for more people to be net receivers of benefits than net payers of taxes. There are two basic problems with this trend towards more and more benefits for more and more people:
As it stands right now, we’re making people more dependent on government programs. Instead we should be helping them become more independent and more capable of supporting themselves on their own. This would improve their quality of life.
Our federal government is spending way too much money and not collecting enough tax revenue to pay the bills. According to report after report from the Congressional Budget Office, the trajectory of growing debt is getting much worse and the problem will become harder and harder to rectify as we continue down this path.
My natural inclination is to be optimistic that our political process will respond to this bleak current path we’re on and that things will be turned around before we have another financial crisis. But it is easy to imagine a course of events where this does not happen.
It’s clear what we need to do but how will this get done?