New York Times (Op-Ed)
By Tom Cole
February 28, 2017
WASHINGTON — When he addresses Congress for the first time on Tuesday night, Donald J. Trump will do so as one of the most untraditional and unexpected presidents in American history. The election, however close, was a decisive statement by the American people against the status quo, an expression of the hope that he would break the stalemate in Washington and lead the country in a new direction.
Mr. Trump can take pride in his cabinet choices, the deregulatory thrust he and the Republican Congress have initiated and the boldness he has shown in shaking up the established order and the elites in Washington. His decision to push ahead on the Keystone pipeline is the triumph of common sense over environmental orthodoxy. And his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is a master stroke that conservatives celebrate and even liberal jurists respect.
I have no doubt that President Trump will spend much of his speech making the case for three initiatives that are already underway in Congress: the rebuilding of the military, the repeal and replacement of the failing Affordable Care Act and the long overdue reform of the tax code. And he will surely discuss his proposals for something most Americans strongly favor — enhanced border security.
However, President Trump will need to do more than merely wait upon a Republican Congress to produce the legislation he has championed. He must become an active participant in the legislative process.
There are many knotty issues that must be resolved with respect to all these points in his agenda. How much money will be pumped into the Pentagon, and will it be offset by reduced spending on domestic priorities such as early childhood education, biomedical research and clean drinking water?
Do Republicans finance their new health care system by keeping some of the Obamacare taxes or, as some suggest, taxing upper-end health insurance plans — an idea they previously opposed?
And will the tax cuts Republicans have advocated be made permanent and paid for by a “border adjustment tax” on imports, or phased out at the end of a decade, as was the case with the George W. Bush tax cuts?
There are divisions within Republican ranks in Congress on all these issues. Many support a border-adjustment tax, for example, but a large number passionately oppose the idea. Only presidential leadership can resolve them. And resolving each issue will require President Trump to take ownership of the final decision and sell it to different factions within the Republican Party, and to the country as a whole. Presidents must lead, and leadership will be required to meet the objectives Mr. Trump has laid out.
There are other initiatives I hope the president addresses in this speech and those to come. In the opinion of many on both sides of the aisle, President Obama conducted unauthorized and therefore illegal wars in Libya, Syria and other parts of the Middle East. A new effort against the Islamic State requires a new congressional authorization for the use of force. President Trump should ask for it.
Preserving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and putting America on a sound fiscal footing requires the reform of the entitlement system. President Trump should embrace that cause. Ronald Reagan did it with respect to Social Security, and won 49 states in his re-election. And as much as all Americans embrace President Trump’s call for enormous new investments in infrastructure, he owes the country an explanation of how he is going to pay for it. President Dwight D. Eisenhower did just that when he built the Interstate System of highways.
Finally, there is the vexing issue of illegal immigration. President Trump is right to focus first on border security. Previous administrations have promised to do so, yet failed to deliver. And he is correct to demand that those who entered America illegally and committed serious crimes be deported.
But that’s just the start. Once the public is convinced that these tasks are being undertaken, the president will have to decide what to do with those who entered the country illegally but, once here, have obeyed the law, contributed to our economy and often had children who are citizens. Eventually, the president will have to address this issue in a manner which is practical, just and comprehensive. No previous president has managed to do so. Given his reputation for toughness on immigration, Mr. Trump might have the credibility to create a consensus.
Our last two presidents tried and failed to unite the country. Indeed, each left it more divided than he found it. President Trump instead has opted to do big things in the hope that by achieving them he can renew the American spirit and bring the country together through deeds, not words. It is a worthy goal. Every American should hope he succeeds.
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