As time marches past the first 100 days of President Trump’s term in office, questions have begun to be raised about how much the president has been able to determinedly stand by his campaign promises, and how much he’s had to compromise on his initial pledges. On some matters, such as trade, there are even questions about whether he still remains as committed to the nationalist ideals he espoused prior to being elected.
By now, readers may be aware that in order to get Senate Democrats to sign off on his budget, Trump had to agree to withhold money for his much-discussed southern border wall (at least in the form of a concrete barrier) as well as to keep funding for sanctuary cities and for Planned Parenthood (at least until September in the latter case). Conservatives may be quite shocked that he’s had to do these things despite Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency.
In a recent interview on CNN, conservative co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus Representative Jim Jordan admitted he was upset Republicans weren’t able to accomplish some of these agenda items. It was especially frustrating because Republicans had specifically extended budget appropriations into the first part of President Trump’s term so they could address these items when their party was in charge of the three lawmaking parts of government.
Now, according to Jordan, the next opportunity to include these measures won’t be until early October, at the beginning of the government’s 2018 fiscal year. The problem with that is it will be all that much closer to 2018 midterm elections, meaning that Congressional Republicans could be even more gun-shy on many of the controversial issues than they are today.
One of the items included in the budget is an expansion — rather than a reduction — in the number of foreign workers allowed into the U.S. to take blue-collar jobs, by at least 20,000. These workers will be given H-2B visas, allowing them to work in low-skill nonagricultural positions such as those in restaurants, retail, theme parks and hotels.
In the last five years, H-2B visa workers acquired more than 500,000 jobs in America. The H-2B visa measure had been lobbied for by the H-2B Workforce Coalition, a group supported by multinational corporations in favor of open borders.
“This maneuver runs directly counter to President’s Trump’s recent executive actions to ‘Buy American’ and ‘Hire American,’ which were specifically crafted to instruct the Departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State to take prompt action to crack down on fraud and abuse in our immigration system in order to protect workers in the U.S. and their economic conditions,” read a statement from NABTU.
“The H-2B visa was conceived as a low-skilled guest worker program that’s meant to be used by employers to fill seasonal and temporary jobs, but which has now been too often used by unscrupulous employers in the construction industry as a means to exploit guest workers and drive down community wage and benefit standards,” claimed the group.
The visa program isn’t the only source of controversy. While Republicans in the House were finally able to agree on repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), better known as Obamacare, the acceptability of the program’s replacement — the American Health Care Act (AHCA) — is more questionable.
On Fox News, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said that the new version of the AHCA is “the first time Republicans have affirmatively put their stamp of approval on a program where federal money — taxpayer money — is paid to insurance companies.”
Paul later referred to this practice as “deplorable.” “It boggles my mind how that became a Republican idea… I mean, there’s not been a louder voice up here [in Washington] for repealing Obamacare. I really want to repeal it; I just don’t want to replace it with Obamacare Lite or another federal program. The programs they put in place will be there forever. So the refundable tax credit — which is a federal subsidy by another name — will be there forever,” claimed Paul.
“And this — this buying — these high-risk pools they want to create, Republicans used to hate the idea. They hated the idea when they were called risk corridors, and they were giving money to insurance companies. They were bailouts when it was a Democrat idea. Now that it’s a Republican idea, they keep sweetening it up.”
While the Senate has yet to vote on the version of the AHCA that passed by a hair’s breadth in the House, Paul said that for now, he still has an open mind on the bill. As for President Trump, the latter celebrated the ACHA’s passage in the House with a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, typically an honor reserved for fully enacted legislation.
Another perennial source of frustration for conservatives is the amount of money spent fighting overseas military conflicts. While in formal terms, the U.S. war in Afghanistan was concluded in 2014, as many as 9,800 U.S. troops plus 26,000 military contractors remain stationed there and continue to battle the Taliban and other hostile forces.
While proactive engagement of enemy troops has been disallowed, there are still ongoing skirmishes and incidents of terrorism that persist in costing the lives of American soldiers and billions of taxpayer dollars. So far, the U.S. has had boots on the ground in Afghanistan for 15 years, and the end of this conflict doesn’t appear to be in sight. President Trump has ceded vast authority for day-to-day operational planning in Afghanistan and other conflict theaters to his military commanders.
One part of the military whose authority is rapidly growing is Special Operations Command (SOCOM). While SOCOM has been focused on counterterrorism for much of the past 15 years, some Senators such as John McCain of Arizona believe SOCOM can be applied to “gray zone” conflicts that do not fall into the neat category of all-out “wars.”
“The ability of our special operators to conduct low visibility special operations in politically sensitive environments make them uniquely suited to counter the malign activities of our adversaries in this domain,” said McCain, who’s chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“While the last 15 years of special operations deployments have been primarily focused on countering violent extremists groups, there’s a growing realization that special operations forces and the unique skill sets they possess may be called upon for other missions as well,” said Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee.
SOCOM Commander Army General Tony Thomas indicated that budget cuts mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act — which includes the 10-year-long Pentagon budget sequester — will be “catastrophic going forward.”
“With budgets going down, what we’ve got to do is, essentially, we’ve had to eat our young,” testified Theresa Whelan, SOCOM Acting Assistant Defense Secretary for Low-Intensity Conflict. “We’ve mortgaged the future in order to facilitate current operations. That’s impacted readiness, and it’s also impacted the development of force for the future. And as the threats grow, this is only going to get worse.”
The budget that passed the House increases defense spending by $15 billion, but President Trump had asked for a $30 billion increase, with a further $54 billion increase proposed for 2018.
Of course, one quagmire that’s definitely primed the pump for more military spending is North Korea. By most accounts, increased spending there is unavoidable as the U.S. seeks to rid the rogue country of its nuclear weapons, an effort that very well may prove futile without resorting to all-out war on the Korean peninsula.
By most accounts, the 30,000+ U.S. troops stationed in South Korea for the last 67 years have not made North Korea any less aggressive or brought dramatic peace to the region; in fact, there are arguments to be made that they’ve had just the opposite effect. But with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un actively threatening to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes nearly weekly as his country continues down the path of its advanced weapons development programs, there doesn’t seem to be a neat or easy way to taper down this military standoff.
Finally, amidst these major items, reports continue to pour in that President Trump has appointed numerous former industry lobbyists to mid-level positions in his cabinet and other government departments.
For those who were hopeful that the president would be actively working on his pledge to “drain the swamp” that is Washington, it now seems more like the swamp is draining President Trump of his political independence and authority. If Trump ultimately proves unable to cut out the systemic corruption in Washington, there’s always the opportunity to find someone new for the job in 2020.