Memoirs of the Addams Administration 17.

The Republican Congress debated a new version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) which had failed in March 2017.  The same dispute between the Freedom Caucus in the House and the moderates in the Senate that wrecked the AHCA remained unresolved.  The Freedom Caucus did deign to accept an amendment that dumped the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions.  Millions of voters will have their say on this matter in November 2018.  Tick, tick, tick.

With the Republican Congress inert, President Trump acted through executive orders on a number of fronts.  On trade, he imposed a tariff on some Canadian lumber and talked about withdrawing from NAFTA.  On natural resources he reversed some late-stage Obama administration designations of Western areas as national monuments and reversed some limits on off-shore oil drilling.  On taxes he sketched a plan for change: cut the corporate tax from 35 percent to 15 percent; reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three (paying 10 percent, 25 percent, 35 percent); double the individual deduction (so that the first $24K of a couple’s income escapes taxation).  The worm in this enticing apple is a loss of $3 trillion in revenue over ten years for a country already mired in red ink as far as the eye can see.[1]  On immigration and labor, Trump issued an order requiring greater scrutiny[2] of H-1B visas for skilled workers.[3]   Faced with the prospect of a government shutdown over the appropriations bill in Congress, Trump dropped his demand for money for the wall along the Mexican border.[4]

The Trump orders surfaced a number of important issues.  On immigration, are we obsessed about Mexican illegals gobbling up the jobs that Americans don’t want to take?  Or are we worried about the unwillingness of Americans to embrace Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) when those are the keys to the future economy?  Or are we afraid of a handful of Muslim immigrants providing cover for a few radical Islamist terrorists?

On taxes, will tax cuts spur growth?  Or are they just a way to fend off federal seizures of private property?  We say “one man, one vote.”  Why not “one man, one tax rate”?  Are huge deficits a problem or not a problem?  If they are a problem, then who should sacrifice to reduce them?  Just the people who do not benefit from the spending or Americans more generally?

On natural resources, for better than a century (c. 1790-1890) the federal government sold off public lands in order to raise revenue and to promote both economic development and social mobility. Really only in the 20th Century did the government turn to a policy of “conservation.”  The government stopped selling public lands.  Since then, people have argued over “preservation” (leave God’s Creation in pristine condition so that people can commune with Nature to restore their souls) and “conservation” (treat water, grasslands, forests, minerals as a more or less renewable resource that can be harvested).  There’s a lot to be said for each argument.  Especially if you have ever seen a clear-cut or camped in a mountain pass with not another human to be seen, or if you have lived in a mill town and seen the modest lives of natural resource workers and talked with well-off Easterners about their week-long vacation in the West.

Nothing about the issues facing the Trump administration are trivial.

[1] Do tax cuts stimulate sufficient economic growth so that overall revenue equals or surpasses the pre-cut level?  It seems not to have been the case with the Reagan tax or the Reaganesque tax cuts of succeeding Republican administrations.  However, I—or someone—should read about the Mellon tax plan of the 1920s and the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut of the 1960s.

[2] That is delays and restrictions.

[3] “Issue of the week: “The trouble with ‘Buy American’,” The Week, 5 May 2017, p. 42.

[4] “Trump’s flurry of major proposals,” The Week, 5 May 2017, p. 6.

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