If he cares about ‘forgotten Americans,’ Trump must tackle domestic matters, starting with getting health care right
March 15, 2017 12:00 AM
By Dan Simpson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Although it is critical to remember that it is still very early days for the administration of President Donald J. Trump, it is nonetheless the case that what he and his people appear to be doing so far may require a new definition of “March madness,” and certainly calls into question what he and his people intend for the “forgotten people” who voted for him in November.
The health care business is the first case in point. Right now it looks like an old-time dogfight in Washington, with the House, the Senate and the White House pushing different directions. The Republicans, who have majorities in both houses of Congress, are split between categorical Obamacare haters, Freedom Caucus budget cutters, more-conventional Republicans and a president intent on winning his first effort to make a deal in Byzantium-on-the-Potomac.
The Democrats are just inchoate. Former President Barack Obama, whose name lends hate to the health care bill currently in force but gravely threatened, is like the lily that floats on the water but whose petals are not wet by it. Former Vice President Joe Biden, tanned and rested, is out making speeches, probably trying to make people wish he had run for president instead of Hillary Clinton.
What Americans can probably be sure of if some new Republican bill comes to govern how we receive our health care is twofold. First, some of us who had insurance under Obamacare will no longer have it under Trumpcare. Guesses of how many will lose it run from 10 million up. Any loss in that area constitutes shame for our country. Any claim that it would represent progress toward “making America great again” defies logic. A senator from a neighboring state pointed out that the American people forget easily who gave them something, but never forget those who took something away.
The second sure result of any reshuffle of the health care deck will be that it will benefit the rich more than the poor, who are the ones who need help. If a tax credit is what people will get under a new Republican law, what about the people who don’t make enough to pay taxes? We’re talking old people living on Social Security and really poor people. You remember, Mr. Trump’s “forgotten people.”
I didn’t even like Obamacare much. It should have been “single payer,” to get the insurance companies out of the game and enable the federal government — the “single payer” — to climb on the drug companies to negotiate them down from charging breathtaking amounts for sometimes needless medicines, the ones advertised on the nightly news shows that old people (like me) watch. If Mr. Trump wanted to do something for the American people, there would be an area where he could deploy his claimed negotiating skills. I sometimes wish the gunfighters from the Western channel shows could be redeployed to some of the drug ads.
The state of the economy so far under Mr. Trump presents an interesting although confused picture. The job creation total for February, 235,000, was encouraging and up a little from Mr. Obama’s last month, January, at 227,000. Wages and percentage of the population working were also up a little bit, also encouraging, in the right direction.
The continuing rising stock market has to warm the cockles of the heart of New Yorker Mr. Trump as a sign of confidence in his ability to do good things for the American economy. At the same time, it is important to remember that only 55 percent of Americans own stock and that, thus, the rise benefits largely the rich and the Wall Street types who profit from stock trading, with commissions and insider trading.
Another troubling area, and one affected by what the solons settle on in terms of our legislated medical care, is deficit spending and the national debt. The debt will hit $20 trillion today, we are told that the federal government will begin being unable to pay the country’s bills in the fall, and, surprise, surprise, the Republican Congress’ ambivalent approach to deficits and debt will make it legislatively messy and horrible to raise the ceiling higher.
Meanwhile, Americans need to keep a very sharp eye out for Mr. Trump’s quickly turning away from domestic policy, which can be hard to control, to escalating wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen and, perhaps, starting a new one with North Korea, which is easier for a president to do as long as he is prepared to ignore the War Powers Act and its required congressional role in starting wars. I guess we don’t need to worry about Mr. Trump’s starting a war with Russia?
Wars cost money, a lot of money, and help run up deficits and debt.
Meanwhile, we also learn that the gross domestic product grew by a feeble 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016. China’s National People’s Congress fusses quietly over a growth rate of 6.8 percent; India’s runs 7.3 percent. Ireland — go, St. Patrick — does 7.8 percent in growth.
So, trim back the wars we are in already, don’t start any new ones and, if Mr. Trump is ready to arm-wrestle the insurance and drug industries, cut the costs of medical care for all Americans. Then, with the liberated money, fix the roads and bridges and electrical and water systems at home. A strong America at home should be the goal. We thought we said just that when the forgotten Americans elected Mr. Trump at the polls, if he was listening.
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1976).
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