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On budget, Trump’s dealmaking doesn’t deliver

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On budget, Trump’s dealmaking doesn’t deliver

Terry Tan | Senior Staff Illustrator

Terry Tan | Senior Staff Illustrator

Terry Tan | Senior Staff Illustrator

Terry Tan | Senior Staff Illustrator

By Nick Eustis | Columnist

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Donald Trump has described himself many ways, but one word he’s used over and over again is “dealmaker.”

“Deals are my art form,” Trump bragged on Twitter in December 2014. And at a campaign stop in August 2015, the reality TV personality rated his book “Trump: The Art of the Deal” second only to the Bible.

After just three months into Trump’s presidency, though, that image has taken some hits, from his inability to enact a functioning executive order on immigration to the failure of his health care bill in Congress. While Republicans currently have control over the full federal legislative apparatus, deep divisions within the party may force the president to consider how effective his self-proclaimed deal-making expertise is in his new job.

In the past several years, two divisions within the party have emerged along the political spectrum: On the far-right side of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives sits the Freedom Caucus, a group of 31 Tea Party conservatives, while the Tuesday Group, an anti-Tea Party of sorts, sits closer to the center of the political spectrum, comprised of 50 moderate Republicans in the House.

Now, after announcing his first budget proposal as president March 16, Trump must put his deal-making skills to the test to satisfy both conservative and mainstream Republicans, while being wary not to alienate Democrats too much.

Trump’s failure to strike this balance was a large factor in the premature death of his signature health care bill, the American Health Care Act. The Freedom Caucus thought the bill did not go far enough in removing popular Obamacare provisions. At the same time, the bill was unacceptable to more moderate Tuesday Group members, as they knew voting to cut provisions would earn them the ire of their constituents.

In his speech after pulling a vote on the AHCA Friday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan implied that Trump had been a significant help during negotiations over the legislation.

Yet, far from whipping votes for the bill’s passage, the president sat pretending to drive in a semi-truck on the White House lawn the day before the bill failed. And, even before that, Trump’s interactions with Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows, R-N.C., publicly committing the representative to the bill before he was ready, were amateurish at best. His actions all but ensured that the far-right group wouldn’t sign on to the AHCA.

Considering Trump was elected president on his deal-making prowess, his failure to even get his entire party to support this key piece of legislation undermines that reputation.

Trump’s budget faces nearly identical obstacles to passage to his health care proposal. And while most of the official work in the next step in the budgeting process will be done in the legislative branch, the executive has traditionally been held responsible for helping forge the compromises necessary to pass the legislation — something Trump seems woefully unprepared to do.

Without votes from Democrats, the House and Senate will need to craft a budget that satisfies most members of the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group, as well as almost every Republican senator. The debates over the AHCA, and Trump’s seeming inability to make deals even with members of his own party, make clear just how tough this will be.

Republicans in both chambers have already voiced their objections to the contents of Trump’s proposal. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., criticized proposed cuts to the State Department, saying they would weaken national security. And Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, called the president’s proposal “draconian, careless and counterproductive.” A complete lack of a response from the Trump administration to Congress’s concerns doesn’t bode well for communication between the two as the budget process goes forward.

There’s more than one way for Trump to appease both sides in Congress. Democrats angered by the presidential budget’s elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides funding for public art, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which operates PBS and NPR, could be won over even by small concessions.

For example, these specific programs are such small parts of the budget that Trump could afford to keep if he cut our $600 billion defense budget by just 0.001 percent. A cut to the military, even that small, may lose him votes from the Freedom Caucus, but this would be counteracted by increased support from moderates on both sides.

Ultimately, Trump will need to be the dealmaker he proclaims himself to be, and work out a compromise with his own party. Otherwise, his budget awaits the same fate as the AHCA: dead on arrival.

 

Nick primarily writes on politics and American culture for The Pitt News.
Write to Nick at npe3@pitt.edu.

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On budget, Trump’s dealmaking doesn’t deliver