President Donald Trump had a big job ahead of him when he took the oath of office in January 2017: reinvigorating Barack Obama’s slow-growing economy, rolling back Obama’s regulatory steamroller, improving national security and “draining the swap.” The good news is Trump has made a lot of progress — a lot more than many expected. Now the question is whether his second year can top his first. It’s possible. Here’s how.
n Tax reform: Trump’s number one accomplishment is the biggest tax reform in 30 years — and given the corporate tax changes, one could argue that the new legislation is even more pro-growth than Ronald Reagan’s 1986 reform. It’s unlikely that any 2018 legislation would actually top tax reform, but it could be made better.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, complains the personal income tax rate cuts are only temporary, not permanent. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas agrees and has suggested he and Sanders co-sponsor legislation that would make them permanent. While Sanders has since tried to walk back his comments a little, making the change should be on Congress’s 2018 to-do list.
n Federal judges: Nominating Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court was another of Trump’s hard-to-top 2017 accomplishments, and one that, like tax reform, will likely live long past Trump’s presidency. But while the public and the media tend to focus on the Supreme Court, the president will nominate hundreds of lower-level federal judges.
There are nearly 900 federal judgeships, including the appellate courts, and recent two-term presidents have been able to appoint around 350 people to fill those slots. However, there were about 100 more vacancies than usual when Trump entered office, which means a two-term Trump might be able to nominate between 450 and 500 federal judges — roughly half of all of them.
The Senate has confirmed 19 Article III (of the U.S. Constitution) judges, including Justice Gorsuch. Fifty more nominations await a Senate vote, but there are more than 140 slots open. Filling the vast majority of those open slots in 2018 would be a tall order — for both the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But doing so would come close to topping 2017.
n The regulatory rollback: President Obama may not have been very successful at pushing his legislative agenda through Congress, but he was an overachiever when it came to pushing regulations. Wayne Crews of the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute calls Trump “the least regulatory president since Reagan.” He notes that in Obama’s last year in office, 2016, he set a record for new pages of regulations in the Federal Register: 97,110.
As of Oct. 1 — two-thirds through the year — the Trump administration had only added 45,678.
The importance of the Trump regulatory rollback cannot be overemphasized, because regulations come with a price. Crews estimates “the baseline for the U.S. federal regulatory burden has amounted to nearly $2 trillion annually. This amounts to a hidden tax of nearly $15,000 per household in a given year.” Moreover, Neomi Rao of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs says the administration has taken three new regulatory actions vs. 67 deregulatory actions, for a 22-to-1 ratio.
Both George W. Bush and Obama claimed they would search for and eliminate needless regulations. Only Trump is actually doing it. And I get the sense he’s only getting started, which means 2018 could be a blowout year — for deregulation.
n Improving national security: Trump’s recently released “National Security Strategy” set a new tone for U.S. foreign policy, one “based on outcomes, not ideology.” Spoken like a true businessman.
Several past U.S. presidents have put protocol over protection, diplomacy over decisiveness. Trump has broken that mold, and the diplomatic community doesn’t like it one little bit.
Political cartoonist A.F. Branco captured the Obama foreign policy perfectly in 2015 with a cartoon that showed Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry bending over grabbing their ankles (in the spanking position) while Obama says, “This position shows our enemies we’re willing to work with them.”
Trump isn’t looking to make friends among foreign leaders, he’s looking for respect — and maybe fear. And given their outrage, he’s succeeding.
n Draining the swamp: One of Trump’s signature campaign slogans was that he’d drain the Washington swamp. I’m not sure many would say he’s achieved that goal, but he’s certainly stirred it up — both domestically and internationally.
Longstanding bureaucrats are resigning in droves, especially at the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency — two of the deepest swamps. And several other agencies have been shaken, including the IRS and the Department of Health and Human Services.
There is every reason to believe that as the “deep state” — as it has come to be called — realizes it cannot use the power of government to force its will on the public, even more bureaucrats will leave in 2018, making for a leaner and less intrusive government.