$20 Trillion: Not With a Bang, But a Whimper

Last week after President Trump signed a bipartisan agreement to increase the debt ceiling for three months the United States National Debt broke $20 Trillion dollars.  So the long time bipartisan tradition of not tackling our government spending problem continues.  While many a deficit hawk would consider this milestone to be unacceptable, it seems that both political parties have reached some mutual agreement to just stop worrying about debt and deficits.  It seems all of us are taking to heart the words of the great Ronald Reagan when he joked “I’m not worried about the deficit — it’s big enough to take care of itself.”

In the midst of discussions over DACA, this or that tweet, and Hillary Clinton’s new book discussions over this new fiscal landmark seemed to fade into the background.  The roar from the battles in the culture war seemed to drown out any recognition that we are well set on our path towards a fiscal cliff.

In 2010 Tea Party candidates fought against government encroachment into the healthcare market and the national debt with sound and fury, now apparently signifying nothing.  Now we have a national debt that is higher than our Gross Domestic Product with apparently no political will to address the problem, let alone a serious plan.  According to Pew Research this fiscal year we will spend $276.2 billion on interest payments for the national debt, and as our debt load increases and interest rates rise that number starts looking worse and worse.

Republicans now control the Executive Branch, both Houses of Congress, and hold a majority on the Supreme Court, and while there has been a lot of talk about health care, immigration, and tax reform, there seems to be no consideration of reforms to our entitlement programs let alone a long term plan to reduce the deficit.  Are we truly “all Keynesians now”? It seems that every time Republicans get into power we suddenly decide that deficits don’t matter.

Last week I attended the Executive Club meeting with speaker Adam Andrzejewski from OpenTheBooks.com, a group dedicated to showcasing every single dime of government spending in a transparent manner online.  Take the time to poke around their website for a while and you’ll be amazed at some of the wasteful government projects they have found.  Spending reform is a reality that can be achieved, we just need the political will to fight for it.

Addressing America’s spending problem will not be easy and it will likely hurt in places, but that pain pales in comparison to the pain inflicted on future generations should they be saddled with an unsustainable debt load.  

While both political parties share the blame for getting us into the situation we are currently in, to their credit, at least the Democrats never actually promised to do anything about it.

Jacob Vandever is political activist, lifelong Oregonian, and proud Oregon State graduate.

Republicans, Pass Tax Reform or Else

Complete Republican control of the Federal government has been disappointing, to say the least. While good things have been done with judicial appointments and in regards to deregulation by executive authority, the GOP congress has yet to pass a landmark piece of legislation. Failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is the most glaring example of the shortcomings of our elected officials in Washington. Now with tax reform on the table, the congressional Republicans have one last chance to prove themselves worthy of the trust we have put in them, pass a comprehensive tax reform bill, or face the consequences.

While we are just now getting the details on the proposed GOP tax plan, the prospects have been quite exciting. Lower corporate taxes, repatriation of money from overseas, a doubled standard deduction, fewer tax brackets, and the elimination of many loophole and carve-outs have been staples of conservative economic thought since the Supply-Side Revolution. If Republicans can’t come together around a combination of pro-growth and middle-class tax cuts, then it is unclear what you could get them together on.

The political challenge looks like it could come from Republican members of Congress living in high tax states like California or New York whose constituents would be hurt by the provisions of the plan that eliminate the deduction for state income taxes. Philosophically we can debate if our Federal Tax code should be subsidizing the ridiculously high tax rates in California, but at the end of the day, you would expect a number of Republicans in Congress will side with their constituents over the party. The GOP has around 20 extra votes House of Representatives which could make things close. Currently there are 14 Republicans representing California in the House of Representatives, and New York who has 9 Republicans, if these representatives banded together the could derail tax reform, not to mention the possibility of Republicans from other high tax states like Illinois getting involved. Thankfully in the Senate, all of these high tax states have exclusively Democrats representing them.

So there may be some horse trading and some compromises made within the Republican caucus in order to get a bill though. As with any major piece of legislation, there will be winners and losers at the end of the day. Lowering the cap on mortgage interest deduction from $1 million to $500,000 is sure to ruffle a few feathers among the Republicans, especially those allied with the homebuilders and realtors lobby. While the details are definitely important, and I hope our representatives hash out this issues, it is inevitable that some Republicans will need to swallow some bitter herbs in order for the entire plan to make it through.

So here is my advice to those Republicans: swallow the bitter herbs. Republicans in Congress already look like the Gang that Can’t Shoot Straight because of their inability or unwillingness to repeal Obamacare. The President and the GOP need a win, and tax reform is the perfect issue to get that win on. So put up a fight over the provisions of the plan that you find objectionable, but when that final bill hits the floor, you better vote for it or face the consequences at the ballot box.

 

Jacob Vandever is political activist, lifelong Oregonian, and proud Oregon State graduate.

Tax Reform Must Be Followed By Entitlement Reform

President Trump is finishing his first year in office strong. Not only was historic tax reform passed through the legislature and signed into law, but in the midst of that legislation was the repeal of the individual mandate that made up the crux of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In one fell swoop an administration that had accomplished fairly little in regards to major legislative accomplishments up to that point had enacted not only one, but two of Republicans biggest legislative promises to the voters. While I am just as giddy as a schoolboy that many hard working Americans will reap the benefits of a doubled standard deduction and that America will finally have a corporate tax rate low enough to be on par with most of industrialized Europe, all legislation comes with trade-offs and in this case it is a trade-off we need to talk about, the deficit.

 

While the pro-growth supply-siders of the Reagan era may have prioritized increased GDP and economic expansion over addressing deficits, modern conservatives may not have that same luxury. At its highest the National Debt under Reagan sat at less than $3 trillion, today we are faced with a national debt of more than $20.5 trillion. While tax reform, economic growth, and being globally competitive are important we cannot turn a blind eye to the eventual debt bomb that is coming our way. For that reason, it is imperative that this historic tax reform is followed up with one of the heaviest lifts in American politics, entitlement reform.

Bernie Sander and the Democrats spent a lot of airtime attempting to scare people into believing that passage of the tax bill would almost automatically mean entitlement reform would follow. I am scared that entitlement reform won’t follow and our debt problem will remain unaddressed. During the 2016 Republican Presidential primaries, one of my biggest issues with candidate Donald Trump was his unwillingness to reform entitlements. We can talk about cutting spending and streamlining government all we want, but unless you address Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid everything else is just nibbling around the edges.

I am glad we got tax reform. I am optimistic about the bill and hope that it will put more money into the hands of hard-working Americans. I thought Democrats who attacked the bill on the basis of what it would do to balloon the deficit were hypocrites who never cared about deficits before they became a useful club to bludgeon Republicans with. I believe that the economic growth generated by tax reform will reduce the projected deficit numbers that many were using to scare people away from the tax bill. That being said, we do have a deficits and debt problem, there will be an eventual economic downturn, and we need to take major action to get America’s house in order financially, and the only way to do that is through reforming entitlements.

Entitlement reform won’t be easy and I worry that there is not the will to get it done either in the White House or in Congress. Mark my words though, if we fail to act on this issue we will pay the price for it, maybe not soon, but someday our unsustainable national debt will come back to haunt us. Now is the time to take action.

 

Jacob Vandever is political activist, lifelong Oregonian, and proud Oregon State graduate. 

The Pivot To Bipartisanship

With Doug Jones being sworn in as the Senator from Alabama the Republican grip on the levers of power is now slightly less firm. Republicans now hold the Senate with a razor-thin 51 edge over the Democrats. After only one year in office Vice President Mike Pence has already been called upon to break a tie vote in the Senate six times. In comparison over the eight years that Joe Biden served as Vice President, he did not take a single tie-breaking vote in the Senate. With Republican Senators such as Susan Collins, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, or even Rand Paul in office who are not afraid to buck the party and vote against their fellow Republicans, governing strictly down party line will only be more difficult moving forward.


With the passage of tax reform and the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate being passed without a single Democratic vote and with midterm elections on the horizon, now is the time for President Trump to make a pivot to bipartisanship. With recent coverage of Donald Trump’s discussions concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, a number of folks on the right are concerned that Donald Trump has gone soft on immigration, but could Trump simply be making the smart pivot that is needed to put Republicans in the best place to be successful in the midterms? A bipartisan compromise that granted some form of legal status to those protected under DACA coupled with increased border security and an end to the policy of chain migration would be an improvement from the status quo and a win for the Trump administration. Following through on Trump’s campaign promise to invest in infrastructure is the most obvious place where Trump could reach across the aisle and possibly take some wind out of Democrat’s sails.

After his first year in office, President Trump has shown that he can get major legislation passed, even if it is right down party lines, what he needs to do now is show that he can get major bipartisan legislation passed. As a nation, we cannot get to the point that we only pass landmark bills into law when one party has complete control of the government. We need to find a way to conduct business even if it means working with people who don’t belong to the same political party. President Donald Trump is in a position to do that in a way that no other President ever has been. Having blown up both the Republican and Democratic parties on his way to the White House, President Trump is less beholden than almost any President before him.

As a Republican who was originally skeptical of Donald Trump core ideology, I was surprisingly satisfied with how conservative his first year in office was from a policy standpoint. Getting tax reform, reigning in regulation, and remaking the judiciary are all huge wins for conservatives, but the country is made up of more than just conservatives, and many who would not adopt that label are those responsible for putting Donald Trump in office. It is time for Trump the great deal maker to show us what he can do. If 2017 was the year of conservative victories, then 2018 needs to be the year of bipartisan solutions.

 

Jacob Vandever is political activist, lifelong Oregonian, and proud Oregon State graduate.

Trump Calls Democrats Bluff on Immigration

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Trump announced his plan for an immigration compromise. Unsurprisingly the plan included money to secure the southern border as well as changes the visa lottery and chain migration that affects who is eligible to come to America legally. The surprising part of the proposal was that it included a 10-12 year pathway to citizenship for those eligible for protection under DACA. On the surface, it would appear to be a compromise that not everyone is going to be thrilled about but could have just enough for both sides that it might just have a chance of getting through the Congress. Unfortunately despite Trump’s willingness to give Democrats what they want on the “Dreamers” political calculus might get in the way.

Comprehensive immigration reform has eluded Presidents and legislators for decades. There have been many “bites at the apple” over the years that never seemed to come to fruition. While this plan is focused on those eligible under DACA and not the rest of the population here illegally, it could face similar problems in getting passed.

At the end of the day I believe that President Trump does not want to see the “Dreamers” deported, so he has offered up a pathway to citizenship for that population, exchange for the other concessions in his immigration proposal. The problem is that I think there is a significant portion of the Democratic party who does not want to give President Donald Trump a “win” on this issue. Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty plan won him and the Republican party a degree of favor amount the population that the plan encompassed. Currently, Democrats and the media love to bring out “Dreamers” to act as spokespeople in attacking the Trump administration and especially his immigration stances. Here in Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer skipped attending the State of the Union address and announced that he would send a DACA recipient in his place. As one of their favorite clubs to whack the President with, I am not sure some Democrats are comfortable with President Trump being the person to sign a law giving a legal status and pathway to citizenship to those protected under DACA, something President Obama was never able to do.

While many of the immigration hardliners are probably not too thrilled with President Trump’s proposal on what to do about DACA, many Americans overall would probably be quite happy with this compromise, provided adequate border security is achieved. Essentially President Trump has offered the Democrats what they asked for, legal status and now even a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers. I fear their unwillingness to give Trump another legislative victory right as his Presidency seems to be in the middle of an upswing, could prevent them from supporting this plan.

I guess we will see if political self-interest will keep the Democrats from taking yes for an answer.

 

Jacob Vandever is a life long Oregonian and Oregon State University graduate. Jacob is a political activist and former Republican candidate for the Oregon Legislature.