Bill Owens: Football And President Trump

Nov 9, 2017

This is not about President Trump’s tweeting about NFL players kneeling down during the National Anthem, but in admiration of his punting skills

If we look back over the last several weeks, we see that the President has punted various issues to Congress often with beautiful spirals landing inside the 5 yard line with the clock ticking down.

The President’s agenda has been frustrated by what he perceives to be an uncooperative Republican Congress, although he accuses Democrats of also being uncooperative. In his mind Congressional Republicans must have been fully cooperative with President Obama. Alternative facts strike again.

The President has punted to Congress on DACA, the Iran recertification, healthcare, and tax reform.  NAFTA seems currently to be exclusively on Mr. Trump’s turf, but if he decides to terminate NAFTA, will he again punt a difficult ball into the hands of Congress?  I see several Members of Congress hanging around the five (5) yard line waiting, likely with a hand raised signaling a full and fair trade catch.

As we analyze each of these issues, common factors emerge. DACA, Iran, healthcare, tax reform and NAFTA were all major campaign issues and resulted in campaign promises.  We all know that healthcare which has been teed up many times since the inauguration and has failed miserably, for a wide variety of reasons.  Mr. Trump acknowledged early on that he didn’t realize how complicated healthcare was, so what better way to deal with an issue you are unprepared to analyze, than to punt it to someone else.  Unfortunately, the Republicans fumbled the ball on multiple occasions.  It appears to me healthcare is sitting on the Republicans two yard line, and they are in danger of having a safety scored against them. 

In recent weeks, Senators Alexander and Murray have come up with a compromise proposal, that at least keep the exchanges functioning, but it is unclear whether that will get any traction.  Senator Paul says he supports Mr. Trump’s plan, although it is unclear what that plan is, and he particularly likes that it provides for the sale of insurance policies across state lines.  Senator Paul goes on to say that the basis for his support is the fact that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) provides the framework for regulation of healthcare.  It is fairly clear Senator Paul has not read ERISA since it does not apply to insurance products, but only to self-funded plans.  This may help some groups like the Chamber of Commerce sell insurance to its members and escape the requirements of the ACA, but those members will not have a plan regulated by a state to insure (excuse the pun) that there are adequate reserves to pay claims. 

DACA does not appear to be moving in any direction, as the Republicans have not even provided the framework of legislation, and the clock is ticking­­­­. The deal with Senator Schumer and Leader Pelosi has faded like a ghost in the wind.  In this case, the ball is on the Republican five yard line with two minutes to go in the game.

On the Iranian front that ball appears to me to be sitting in the red zone, with again, about five minutes to go.  Many Republicans are stating that they support the retention of the agreement even though they don’t particularly find it a play they’d like to run. Republicans will likely get this one into the end zone. Is it a score for the President or Congress?

Tax reform is today’s current hot topic, but again, has very little substance that anyone has seen, including members of the House and Senate. The President proposed tax reform with a very broad outline, and again, given that to Congress, if you will, to fill in the blanks.  This is likely to be a long, hard fought battle because virtually all of the constituencies will fight to preserve their deductions and credits while also seeking lower rates.  The combined impact will be, of course, to reduce revenue to the Treasury, and thus, increase the debt and deficit.  Lowering taxes has always been part of the Republican philosophy, including the famous trickle-down economics of President Reagan, and that, now, is in the hands of Congress, satisfying yet another campaign promise. This ball is likely on about the thirty yard line, and with the budget Resolution passed by the Senate and passing in the House, then there is probably substantial time available to get that legislation across the goal line.  Given the cuts to Medicare and Medicaid contained in the budget resolution, it is unlikely that Democrats will get on board to assist the push towards the goal line.  Then of course the best defense against tax legislation will see lobbyist fighting the removal of deductions and credits.

It is interesting that the Democrats are not really playing defense, as they don’t have to, nor are they in a position in the House to do so.  In the Senate they can play some defense because there are some players on the Republican side who seem to be moving back and forth, but most of the “success” the Democrats have had results from unforced errors by the Republicans, fumbles, interceptions, penalties and dropped balls.  

Each punt has delivered a ball that is needed to satisfy the President’s base, if the result is a compromise he can simply tweet that is all he could get.  It’s also possible that the results of some of these actions are, in fact, good policy which could benefit the entire country, DACA, Iran, and Healthcare.

Mr. Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford Owens in Plattsburgh, NY and a Senior Advisor to Dentons to Washington, DC.

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