Who would lose a fight and then go back for more? Do you remember Iowa in February 2016, when a bruised Donald Trump went on to win the next three primaries? It would seem that the president is channeling his inner underdog once more. Ironically enough, the opponent yet again is Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). The battlefield this time, however, is far from the polling places in New Hampshire. President Trump wants to fight round two over his health care bill in the swamp of D.C.
Round one did not go well for the president. A bruising 17% approval rating, a cut and bloodied bill pulled from the House floor, and a fractured GOP are all that President Trump has to show for his first serious foray into legislative politics. Along with Cruz, other victorious combatants include Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT), along with a handful of Freedom Caucus Puritans in the House. Cruz derided the now deceased bill as something that would both make things worse and break a promise to voters expecting the full repeal of Obamacare. So why is the president so eager to reanimate the health care debate and jump into the ring with these same opponents, and so quickly? Why not wait until after the passage of his next legislative agenda item, tax reform?
The answer to this and many other questions is money. According to The Wall Street Journal, “one of the reasons he has reprioritized health care is that he was relying on savings from the health bill to bolster the tax plan.” This little tidbit of information goes a long way toward predicting what the upcoming tax bill will contain, while Trump’s preferred order of events reveals even more about his priorities as a president.
President Trump has the difficult job of squaring a populist and nationalist agenda with an obligation to the fiscally conservative party he represents. Infrastructure, defense spending, and border walls do not pay for themselves. The president realizes this and his proposed budget is revenue-neutral, meaning that every dollar he added in support of his agenda was cut from somewhere else. While this will not reduce the deficit, it will not put the nation on a steeper trajectory into debt either.
The president could have tried something similar with taxes. However, given the fact that he is returning to health care before tackling taxes, it looks like the tax plan is shaping up to be a net drain on the budget. The CBO estimated that the original American Health Care Act would save $337 billion over the next ten years. It would appear that Trump is banking on that money being available so he can cut taxes without increasing the deficit.
The fact that he is returning to health care to secure the savings before putting the nation on the hook for an expensive tax overhaul is telling. President Trump is taking the fiscally responsible route and refusing to spend money he does not already have when it comes to his proposed legislation. What does this mean for you? One of Trump’s campaign promises was that the average family would save about one thousand dollars under his tax plan. It looks like savings from health care reform may help bankroll that cut.
While we may not have a real budget hawk in the White House, we at least have someone committed to preventing the deficit from growing. As he heads back into the legislative arena for round two on health care, the stakes are even higher than the previous fight. A second knockout would devastate Trump. Perhaps bargaining the health care plan against the promise of tax cuts is the winning combo for a victory against his old nemesis Senator Cruz.