Today was the end of “infrastructure week.” I know, I know, your head is literally swimming with the nuances and details of the massive, systematic program of infrastructure improvement which the White House has painstakingly laid out, in detail, every day this week.
Just kidding. That didn’t happen.
The only detail of the Trump infrastructure program is this: There is no infrastructure plan. Just like the non-existent tax plan that the President insists is “moving through Congress” when there hasn’t even been a bill introduced, and just like there is no White House healthcare reform plan other than the slap-dash piece of crap authored by Paul Ryan and hung up in the Senate where it was basically dead on arrival.
More than four months into a Republican White House supported by two houses of Congress also led by Republicans, Trump’s policy achievements are mostly limited to stripping away environmental regulations for the polluter’s lobby that supported his run. To date, the President has failed to sign any major legislation, and has left numerous federal agencies understaffed and in chaos. Likewise, what was to be his signature achievement, his legally dubious “immigration plan” is hung up in court, awaiting a ruling by the Supreme Court, which will now be obligated to consider his ill-advised tweets of this past week conceding that it is an unconstitutional travel ban.
The only honest assessment of White House economic policy to date is that there is no policy.
Consider for a moment what was to have been a week-long focus on infrastructure. You’d think that before you announced that it was “infrastructure week”, you’d have some actual proposals, like revenue-and-spending details and timetables. Not this White House. The president’s speech on Monday was devoid of specifics. The closest he came was saying that “We have studied numerous countries, one in particular, they have a very, very good system; ours is going to top it by a lot.” Impressive! Can I ask the follow up question of how?
The ceremonial signing on Monday was pure theater. The president staged a photo op, signing a paper that merely asks Congress to work on a bill (we can debate whether this was a direction or merely an expressed “hope”, snicker, snicker). Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Congress isn’t working on infrastructure at all, according to Politico. Republicans have shown no interest in a $200 billion spending bill, particularly when they plan to slash revenues by more than that.
All we’ve seen is a staged media event intended to show the press and the public that the president has an economic agenda. On Wednesday, the president delivered an “infrastructure speech” in Cincinnati where he criticized Obamacare, bragged about his Middle East trip – and gave no new details on how his plan would work or how it would be paid for. Infrastructure Week was nothing more than a series of empty speeches to make it appear like Trump is hard at work on a bill that can’t advance because it doesn’t exist.
The public appears to be catching onto the scam. Bloomberg has compiled several examples of the president promising major proposals or decisions on everything from climate-change policy to infrastructure “in two weeks.” He’s whiffed on that deadline pretty much every time.
In early February, Trump made a two-week promise on tax reform: “We’re going to be announcing something I would say over the next two or three weeks.” Eleven weeks later, in late April, the White House finally released a tax proposal. It was almost a whole page long!
This is what you can expect when the best and the brightest know that the best thing they can do is stay as far the hell away from this White House as they can. Even the blue-chip law firms dotting D.C. are refusing to come on board to defend Trump in the Russia investigation, recognizing that, based on past performance, Trump won’t take their advice and won’t pay their bills. This White House is literally Kryptonite for competency.
The White House did deliver a budget proposal pretty much when it said it would, but when it came out, it couldn’t be taken seriously, because its authors double-counted a projected benefit from higher (completely hypothetical) GDP growth, leading to a $2 trillion math error. The actual error is likely even greater, because the plan included hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue from the estate tax – which the White House has previously proposed eliminating.
The half-assed approach also extends, very notably, to the repeal of Obamacare. Trump has allowed House Speaker Paul Ryan to steer the Obamacare-replacement bill, even though it violates the president’s campaign promises to expand coverage and protect Medicaid. After its surprising passage in the House, Trump directly undercut it on Twitter by suggesting he wants to raise federal health spending. Did he not know what was in the House bill? The answer, sadly, if probably not. The president lacks the desire, motivation or the attention span to grasp even the most basic policies; it was certain that the intricacy of healthcare would completely elude him. So it should be no surprise that the actual bill that’s on the table and the president’s Twitter account are irreconcilable. Healthcare funding cannot be raised and slashed simultaneously. Twitter showed the country that there is no Trump healthcare plan.
This is not to say he hasn’t done anything. Trump has signed several executive orders undoing Obama-era regulations, removing environmental protections, and banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries. He has challenged NATO and pulled out of the Paris Accords. To what end? Damned if he knows. But these were all things he was able to do alone. None of them required anyone else to participate. And it stands to reason that someone like Trump who heads a private company would be more comfortable acting alone – as if omnipotent, which he appears to think he is – than dealing with checks and balances. But passing laws requires tenacity, persuasion and the cooperation of hundreds of representatives in the House and Senate who can’t just be fired at will.
Yet even Congressional Republicans seem to be floundering, struggling to accomplish that which they have promised for the better part of a decade. Already, some GOP senators say they may not repeal Obamacare this year—or ever. Apparently the responsibility of governing is something they cannot manage nearly as well as the relative ease of shooting spitballs from the sidelines.
The GOP’s oppositional rhetoric has created its ultimate Frankenstein monster in the person of Trump. They are united in their derision of Obama-era policies, yet universally unable to articulate a coherent vision of what should come next. They are hamstrung by campaign promises that they cannot fulfill. They are trapped by years of ramping up extremism in the name of partisanship, while simultaneously doomed by core principles and policies which are repugnant to most individuals who value their own interests and opportunities. All the while, Trump continues to bleat out a cornucopia of economic promises which are completely divorced from any effort to detail, advocate, or enact major economic legislation.
What is the theme for next week? Does it even matter?