Can par­ties over­come dis­trust? Doubt­ful

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OP-ED - Robert Con­tact Robert J. Sa­muel­son through his syn­di­cate at writ­ers.group@wash­post.com. © 2018, Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group

Pres­i­dent Trump and Con­gress face a moun­tain of un­fin­ished busi­ness — and chances are that most of it will stay un­fin­ished.

Of course, no one knows what will hap­pen, and the pres­i­dent and con­gres­sional lead­ers of both par­ties have made the usual noises about co­op­er­a­tion. “There are a lot of good things that we can do to­gether,” the pres­i­dent said at a press con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day. You should take th­ese pledges with a healthy dose of skep­ti­cism.

Here’s a par­tial list of ar­eas where Con­gress and the pres­i­dent might act: health care (Medi­care, Med­ic­aid, the Af­ford­able Care Act, drug prices); im­mi­gra­tion; taxes; huge bud­get deficits; in­fra­struc­ture; ad­e­quate de­fense spend­ing; and the min­i­mum wage, to name just a few.

Some com­pro­mises can be imag­ined: Democrats might sup­port Trump’s “wall” on the south­ern bor­der in re­turn for Repub­li­cans back­ing per­ma­nent le­gal sta­tus for so-called DACA im­mi­grants — chil­dren who were brought to the United States by par­ents or oth­ers when they were young. (DACA stands for “De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals.” There are about 690,000 ac­tive DACA re­cip­i­ents.)

But the pres­i­dent had two years and con­trol of both houses of Con­gress to ar­range such a com­pro­mise. With Democrats hav­ing won the House, are the chances of achiev­ing it now so much bet­ter? It seems doubt­ful. The level of mis­trust is enor­mous.

Con­sider some other ob­sta­cles to co­op­er­a­tion.

First, there are the nor­mal dif­fer­ences of ide­ol­ogy and po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, which have grown as Con­gress and pub­lic opin­ion have be­come more po­lar­ized. Next, there’s the hos­tile fall­out from ag­gres­sive con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, as well as the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion; th­ese are in­evitable and bound to stoke ill will. Fi­nally, there’s a feel­ing in both par­ties that in­ac­tion is of­ten more po­lit­i­cally ad­van­ta­geous than com­pro­mise. It’s bet­ter to have an “is­sue” than a messy ne­go­ti­a­tion.

What might make po­lit­i­cal sense for both con­gres­sional Democrats and the pres­i­dent is to ad­vance com­pet­ing po­lit­i­cal agen­das, not with the in­tent of chang­ing poli­cies, but with the pur­pose of build­ing sup­port for the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Trump would con­cen­trate on for­eign af­fairs (where he has more in­de­pen­dent power to act) and the econ­omy. Mean­while, con­gres­sional Democrats would em­pha­size their ef­forts to for­tify the “safety net” and im­prove the eco­nomic lot of the mid­dle class. The House would pass leg­is­la­tion em­body­ing th­ese goals, which would ei­ther die in the Se­nate or be ve­toed by the pres­i­dent.

It’s a plau­si­ble po­lit­i­cal strat­egy for both par­ties with one im­por­tant caveat: What’s good for the politi­cians may not be good for the coun­try.

Sa­muel­son

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