Here’s how Trump thanks his vot­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - Ruth­mar­cus@wash­

So much for the for­got­ten men and women. Judg­ing by Pres­i­dent Trump’s ini­tial for­ays into eco­nomic pol­i­cy­mak­ing, they would have been bet­ter off for­got­ten. “The for­got­ten men and women of our coun­try will be for­got­ten no longer,” Trump vowed in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress. “Ev­ery­one is lis­ten­ing to you now.”

They are? The Repub­li­can health­care plan that Trump en­dorsed and the bud­get he just sub­mit­ted cater more to the in­ter­ests of the bil­lion­aires Trump chose for his Cab­i­net than to the low­er­in­come, ru­ral and older vot­ers who formed the back­bone of his elec­toral sup­port.

In­deed, if you con­vened health-care ex­perts and asked them to de­sign a sys­tem guar­an­teed to alien­ate those Trump vot­ers, you would come up with some­thing like the Amer­i­can Health Care Act. The bot­tom line of the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice num­ber — that 24 mil­lion fewer would have cov­er­age by 2026 — ac­tu­ally un­der­states the harms that the pro­posal would in­flict on many Trump vot­ers.

The in­sur­ance that peo­ple would ob­tain would have “lower av­er­age ac­tu­ar­ial val­ues” — CBO-speak for worse cov­er­age. The high co-pays and de­ductibles about which Trump and other crit­ics of Oba­macare rail? “They would tend to be higher than an­tic­i­pated un­der cur­rent law” and would climb even higher for the less well-off af­ter 2020, when cost-shar­ing sub­si­dies were re­pealed, “sig­nif­i­cantly in­creas­ing out-of-pocket costs . . . for many lower-in­come en­rollees.”

The new sys­tem would hurt the old­est con­sumers. In­sur­ers would be free to charge those be­tween 50 and 64 five times as much as younger en­rollees; un­der Oba­macare, that dif­fer­en­tial is lim­ited to three times as much. It would hurt those with lower in­comes, be­cause the tax cred­its would “tend to be smaller” than the sub­si­dies avail­able un­der cur­rent law, which are more gen­er­ous to those who earn less — not to men­tion the ex­tra hit af­ter 2020, men­tioned above.

It would hurt those who live in ru­ral ar­eas, with fewer avail­able health-care ser­vices and there­fore higher costs, be­cause the tax cred­its would be the same across the coun­try, not based on the cost of pre­mi­ums in par­tic­u­lar states.

Mean­time, the ul­tra-wealthy would ben­e­fit, big-league. The Trump plan would elim­i­nate the ad­di­tional 0.9 per­cent pay­roll tax on earn­ings and the 3.8 per­cent tax on in­vest­ment in­come for house­holds mak­ing more than $250,000. Those in the top 1 per­cent (mak­ing more than $772,000 in 2022) would reap 40 per­cent of the ben­e­fits, ac­cord­ing to the Tax Pol­icy Cen­ter.

As former CBO direc­tor Dou­glas El­men­dorf sum­ma­rized the im­pact in re­cent tes­ti­mony, “I’m baf­fled that any­one could have watched last year’s elec­tion cam­paign, seen the frus­tra­tion and anger of many work­ing Amer­i­cans, and con­cluded that the most im­por­tant thing they could do for our coun­try is to make health care un­af­ford­able for tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans of mod­est means who can af­ford care now, while cut­ting taxes for the rich­est Amer­i­cans.”

Trump ap­pears to be aware of this, ex­cept when he isn’t. In an in­ter­view with the pres­i­dent, Fox News’s Tucker Carl­son cited a Bloomberg anal­y­sis that Trump-back­ing coun­ties would do “far less well un­der this bill” than those where vot­ers sup­ported Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“Well, I know,” Trump replied, then added, “We will take care of our peo­ple or I’m not signing it.” Two days later, Trump pro­claimed him­self “100 per­cent be­hind” the “great plan.”

And then there is Trump’s “bud­get” — in quotes, be­cause it is a par­tic­u­larly bare-bones doc­u­ment that does not in­clude his pro­posal for a mas­sive tax cut. The lat­est ver­sion of his tax plan would cost $6.2 tril­lion over the decade, ac­cord­ing to the Tax Pol­icy Cen­ter, and, again, be heav­ily tilted to­ward the rich­est Amer­i­cans. Even leav­ing taxes aside, Trump’s pro­pos­als would hurt the vot­ers whose in­ter­ests he pledged to pro­tect: cuts to job train­ing, col­lege aid, housing as­sis­tance, heat­ing costs, ru­ral de­vel­op­ment, meals for shut-ins and af­ter-school pro­grams for low-in­come stu­dents. “Dra­co­nian, care­less and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive,” said one House law­maker — not a Demo­crat, but Ken­tucky Repub­li­can Hal Rogers, former Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee chair­man.

And it’s not like th­ese do­mes­tic dis­cre­tionary spend­ing pro­grams have been swim­ming in cash — fund­ing lev­els are already set to be at their low­est as a share of the econ­omy since such data col­lec­tion be­gan in 1962.

Which brings us back to Trump’s in­au­gu­ral ad­dress. “For too long,” he said, “a small group in our na­tion’s cap­i­tal has reaped the re­wards of gov­ern­ment while the peo­ple have borne the cost.”

How does he explain him­self to the peo­ple now?


House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) an­swers ques­tions about Repub­li­can health-care leg­is­la­tion on Capi­tol Hill on March 8.

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