President-elect Donald Trump looks more and more like he’s preparing an invasion force to change Washington as we know it. But wars need battles and, more specifically, battle plans. So where and how is the Trump army going to strike first? Here’s a two word road map: “Personal responsibility.”
With every new cabinet appointment, tweet, interview, and speech on his victory tour, Trump is doubling down on putting together a team and pursuing policies that slay Washington’s bipartisan sacred cows. That’s right, I said “bipartisan.” You might think American politics are hopelessly divided along partisan lines, but Trump keeps proving that to be untrue because of the bipartisan angry responses to so many of his transition period moves and comments.
Critics from both sides of the aisle have bashed aspects of Trump’s very personal negotiations with Carrier to keep American jobs in the U.S. They responded with public concern and alarm to Trump’s comments about breaking the “One China” policy and the longtime practice of presidents getting daily intelligence briefings.
There’s been push back on his Twitter attacks on the pricey contracts for Air Force One and now the F-35 stealth fighter. Oh and just in case none of these anti-Washington positions and comments are convincing enough, remember that Trump’s wife Melania and youngest son Barron aren’t even going to move into the White House. At least not right away. That too has drawn some criticism from all sides.
But history buffs might still be scoffing at the idea of a true insurgent presidency because just about every winning presidential candidate since at least Jimmy Carter has portrayed themselves as an outsider and run a campaign against Washington. Why should anyone think Trump will turn out all that different from say, Ronald Reagan, who for all his anti-Washington rhetoric still left the federal government bigger than how he found it, and had an administration mostly made up of established Republican Washington insiders?
The answer is easily found by scrutinizing his cabinet choices. To fight a real across the Rubicon-like takeover of Washington by a belligerent outsider, Trump needs cabinet members who have an actual track record of belligerence. And so many of Trump’s cabinet picks have a lot of that when it comes to the agencies they’re slated to take over. With that belligerence comes the inevitable ax that will cut the government’s involvement in our personal decisions and put the onus back on us.
As of now, at least four of Trump’s official choices have signaled very clearly what kinds of smaller government policies they’ll tackle first. We know Secretary of Health and Human Services-Designate Tom Price is going to pursue the repeal of Obamacare and work with Republicans in Congress to create a viable replacement policy that puts more responsibility in the hands of individual Americans to buy their own health coverage.
Price and company are likely betting that the number of Americans who will lose their insurance coverage because of an Obamacare repeal won’t cause the kind of cataclysmic uproar many Democrats are predicting. That may have something to do with a new Heritage Foundation report that insists the White House’s oft-repeated claim that 20 million previously-uninsured people only got coverage because of Obamacare is wildly exaggerated… by as much as 300 to 400 percent. But more on the Trump team’s health plan later.
Education Secretary-Designate Betsy DeVos is such a staunch advocate for statewide private school voucher programs, that she’s likely to have a detailed plan to expand that program to the national level on day one.
We know Attorney General-Designate Jeff Sessions will work to strengthen immigration laws and enforcement that frees the federal government from housing and granting more protective status to undocumented immigrants.
We know EPA Administrator-Designate Scott Pruitt will probably start by gutting the EPA’s new regulations seeking to curtail the emissions of methane, thus freeing the oil and gas sector from a troublesome hurdle. Pruitt is currently one of the state Attorneys General suing the EPA to nix those very rules, so that’s probably the easiest prediction of all.
And Energy Secretary-Designate Rick Perry is on record as saying he thinks the Energy Department should be shut down. Downsizing the DOE is pretty much a certainty.
But there are at least three more Trump appointees who seem likely to be preparing for three less obvious battles once they hit the nation’s capital. First is Trump’s pick for HUD Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, who is a longtime critic of public housing and government welfare programs in general. Carson likes to talk about self-reliance more than any Republican politician in recent years, and that’s saying something.
Thus, he is very likely to revive the late Jack Kemp’s failed bid to offer public housing residents the chance to buy equity in their homes like a mortgage. When Kemp was HUD Secretary under President George H.W. Bush, he proposed a $4 billion plan to begin that quasi-privatization process, but the then-Democratic Congress killed it by approving less than 10 percent of the needed funding to back it up. Look for Carson to appeal to the now-Republican controlled Congress to get a different result.
Second is Labor Secretary-Designate Andy Puzder, who is such a longtime critic of so many government policies imposed by both Democrats and Republicans, that it might seem impossible to know where he’s going to start. But remember that Puzder comes directly from the world of fast food franchising as the CEO of CKE Restaurants. And a relatively new rule created by the National Labor Relations Board has caused so much outrage in the franchise world, it’s highly likely to be the first thing Puzder is going to change.
That would be the so-called “Brown-Ferris” ruling that takes a lot of the responsibilities for employee rights and benefits away from the individual franchisee and back onto the corporate franchisor. While that change may sound great for smaller players like the franchisees, both they and the corporate owners have battled against it because it’s increasing the barrier to entry for less wealthy potential new business owners wanting to get into the franchise business.
A CNBC report last year even quoted sources as saying many new franchises were being put on hold given the new corporate liabilities and so many new questions. And considering the fact that buying these kinds of franchises is a practice so heavily-favored by minorities and immigrants, trashing this rule could have a very positive effect for Trump among blocks of voters who mostly resisted his candidacy. Brown-Ferris is toast.
And finally, let’s get back to the Trump health insurance policy. Trump’s pick for the more obscure but exceedingly more important job of Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is crucial. Trump has tapped the architect of Indiana’s state health plan, Seema Verma, for that position. Verma is one of the nation’s premiere experts on the costs of Medicaid, especially as it pertains to patients who do or do not take an active role in managing their personal health and their health care costs.
She is the perfect person to help Health Secretary-Designate Price transition Americans not only off of Obamacare, but off the notion that the government is more responsible for health care than the people themselves. The bet is prices will come down as soon as more people, even people on Medicaid, have to shoulder some of the actual cost of care.
While working in Indiana, Verma was a major creator and proponent of the “Healthy Indiana” plan that gave even the poorest Hoosiers the chance to use tax free health savings accounts. But there was a twist: The cost of preventive care and deductibles were not taken out of those accounts, to make them last longer and make the entire process more affordable for the poor. Verma pushed for that and thus supported an increased state tax on cigarettes to pay for it.
But the plan still had teeth as people who failed to make their monthly contributions were booted out of the program after a 60-day grace period. In short, this was a health savings plan that got a little more government help but still produced users who took more personal responsibility. It was hailed as a success by several bipartisan sources, but the Obama Administration refused to accept the plan as a substitute for its individual health insurance coverage mandate.
Now, look for Verma to resurrect that pet program on the national level as a major counter to something personal responsibility advocates see as one of Washington’s most egregious errors.
There are more hints about coming policies connected to Trump’s other cabinet and team choices. But the plans most likely to be implemented first and with the most gusto by Carson, Puzder, and Verma are major policy changes flying right in established Washington’s face. They will immediately affect a cumulative total of millions of Americans. Again, this is all happening while Trump still has more than six weeks to go before he officially takes office.
But once he does, be ready for his attack on “Washington as usual” to look and sound like one of those classic horror films from the 1970s where the main character inevitably shouts: “The monster is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!!” And those inside attacks will definitely be led by Trump’s cabinet choices, who remain the most solid evidence that the incoming Trump administration really thinks the Washington way of doing things is garbage.