On Tuesday evening President Trump addressed a joint session of Congress and promised. It’s notoriously difficult to hold elected officials to promises made on the campaign trail: rhetoric is heated, they fight for news coverage, and traditionally candidates over-promise to get elected. But these are promises from a sitting president who now is beginning to understand the complexities of the issues facing the country. Among his most aggressive promises were:
- a “big, big, [tax] cut” for business along with “massive tax relief for the middle class”
- a “better healthcare system” that will include coverage for pre-existing conditions and reduced costs for prescription drugs
- a one trillion dollar investment in infrastructure financed through public and private sources
- a budget that includes “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history”
Trump struck a much more statesmanlike tone in this speech, especially when compared to his inaugural address, and he received high marks for sticking to the teleprompter and coming across as more presidential.
In one of the more notable moments in his address, Trump signaled that he was looking to Congress for leadership on the issue of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. “I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in the Congress” to work together to replace Obamacare. Interestingly, GOP leaders in Congress are looking back at the White House for leadership and direction. As has been widely reported, neither the White House nor Republicans in Congress want to be responsible for the millions of Americans who stand to lose their coverage with an Obamacare repeal. It’s important also to note that Trump is looking to make Democrats part of the solution for the first time, an invitation that Democrats can and should decline. Trump and the Republicans ran on repealing Obamacare – the responsibility and consequences of what happens next fall squarely on their shoulders.
Steve Beshear, the former governor of Kentucky who gave the Democratic response to the President’s address, summarized the situation in comments to the Huffington Post before the speech: “I think the president and the Republican Congress are like the dog that caught the car,” Beshear said. “I don’t think that the Congress ever thought they’d ever actually be in this position to have to follow through with all the repeal promises they made.”
As Trump has learned since taking office, there are no easy solutions and the details are very complex. While Republicans look to each other for direction, there is growing support for Obamacare nationally and Republicans are very wary of policy changes that will hurt their chances to hold onto the House and Senate in 2018.
The bottom line: Promises made by President Trump are promises that we can and will hold him to.