On Tuesday evening President Trump will have the opportunity to address the nation, and equally as important, House and Senate members during a joint session of Congress. These are the individuals who will actually vote to make, amend or rescind laws during Trump’s tenure. At no point throughout the fledgling administration’s term has anything the President said been as critical or imperative. Regardless of whether one agrees with the President on policy issues, we all want what’s best for our country. So far, things aren’t going so well. It’s indisputable that the Trump transition has been the most unruly new reign in decades. He needs to get this right on Tuesday, and he can.
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Supporters of the President suggest his rough and rocky start is a result of his disruptive force breaching the D.C. Beltway bubble and ruffling feathers. They point to his many efforts, some significantly substantive, to ”make good” on campaign promises. The odds, they say, have and will always be against him whether it be from Democrats, the media at large, or even the judicial system. His recourse is to stay the course and understand it won’t be easy.
On the flip side, detractors say the President is dismissive and flawed in his words, management style and initial policy agendum, as demonstrated by erroneous contentions about subjects including crowd sizes and by Executive Orders that are non-effectual or can’t meet judicial muster—even raising concerns about racism and fairness for the less fortunate among us. To boot, his perceived attempts to stifle the free press, even some Republicans say, is an abuse of power which violates fundamental freedoms of our democracy. Much of this antagonism is illustrated by demonstrators who have sprouted up at rallies and town hall meetings across the nation.
The reality lies somewhere in between the two extremes. The President has done a lot in just a little over a month in office—some of it very real, some cosmetic. It’s also true that he faces an entrenched bureaucracy and political system which is resilient to change or recalibration to his style and aggressiveness. For their part, financial markets are continuing to support the promise of his rhetoric, despite the lack of actual changes to laws or regulations on economic matters. That exuberance, however, has a shelf life.
Due to many of Mr. Trump’s off-the-cuff comments that either distract from his main messages or raise concerns about his veracity, the media and Democrats have raised some legitimate questions. Those concerns have been heightened by the resignation of General Flynn as National Security Advisor related to his pre-inaugural conversation with the Russian Ambassador about U.S. sanctions on Russia. That, in addition to related questions about former Trump campaign officials and their interactions with foreign interests have both Democrats and Republicans calling for investigations. Thus, the rocky road on which the Trump presidency has set out on—since day one—continues.
It’s time to get things back on a righteous road before it’s too late. The President can begin that process Tuesday evening. It’s incumbent upon our President to hit—and hit hard—the reset button. It doesn't matter if he likes it, Congress is key to his (and the country’s) success, and members of the House and the Senate will be acutely tuned in to what he says, so he should stay on script this time. The stakes have never been higher if he wants collaboration and cooperation. If he seeks to get anything of substance done, the promising period of time is upon him and his administration. He doesn’t have years here. The 2018 election season is approaching quickly, making compromises even more difficult. He really only has a few months with any goodwill to get started on key issues.
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Among those important policy proposals that he touted on the campaign trail and as President are major things that can actually help improve our economy, our country and the lives of Americans. Key among those are infrastructure improvements coupled with tax reform. These, if they are done in tandem, can garner broad bipartisan support in Congress. Here’s why:
- Generally, Republicans really want corporate tax reform and Democrats really want individual tax reform. While comprehensive tax reform hasn’t been successful since 1986, addressing both corporate and individual reform is a marriage waiting to happen and can help inject fuel into our economy by simplifying the tax code and making our tax structure more conducive to growth. If the President follows through on what he promised as a candidate—helping average families and not simply reducing corporate taxes—there is a definite deal to be had.
- In contrast, infrastructure improvements have historically not been particularly political. The President has called for a trillion dollars toward this effort. Democrats agree and it could result in more than 15 million jobs! Even if that amount was less (as many Republicans have already argued) it could help keep the sub-five percent unemployment rate low.
In 2004, I worked for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) on crafting a transportation bill which passed the Senate. The key wasn’t about bridging the gap between Republicans or Democrats. The divide was urban versus rural. Rural members of Congress want decent roads, more urban and suburban representatives want improved transit (local trains and buses). Likewise, improvements to transportation infrastructure is funded primarily through the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) which is comprised of fuel taxes (18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline). States with more fuel sales (the more populated so-called “donor” states) contribute more than less populated rural states to the HTF. Without increasing that 18.4 cents since 1993 and with increased fuel economy in recent decades, the HTF hasn’t raised the funds needed to keep pace with required repairs. Thus, we have what the American Society of Civil Engineers says is $3.6 trillion of needed improvements and an infrastructure report card averaging a mere D-plus! As former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says, “We are one big pothole.”
Figuring out the compromise on infrastructure, like we did back in 2004, is key to getting these improvements started and ensuring secure roads, bridges, airports, ports, dams and levees. For every dollar put into infrastructure, it has a multiplier impact of three times on our economy. Infrastructure improvements are far and away the most important economic/jobs task that President Trump and Congress can accomplish.
The bottom line here is that as part of his reset Tuesday, the combination of tax reform and infrastructure improvements is a recipe for success if the President puts them forward in a commonsense fashion. At the same time, he needs to stay away from distractions and any outlandish or unsubstantiated statements. No mention of erroneous millions of fraudulent voters. No mention of “fake news” that has respected journalists at many news outlets cringing in recent days. And, no mention of “so-called” judges.
If the President keeps his eyes on the horizon, realizes that regardless of how folks evaluate what he has done so far, he has an imminent and enormous opportunity, he can put us on a positive path forward. For our people and our country, let’s hope he does.
Former U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner Bart Chilton is a political and policy commentator and author of Ponzimonium: How Scam Artists Are Ripping Off America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.