On Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump took the oath of office becoming the 45th President of the United States. In his inaugural address, the new President promised to “make America great again” by investing in America and its citizens. In late October 2016, then-candidate Trump unveiled his “Contract with the American Voter,” which was intended to outline his plan for the first 100 days of a Trump Administration.
Well, the Trump Administration is now here, and while we all know the track record of promises candidates make on the campaign trail, it will be important to know what to expect from the first 100 days.
Let us first dispel some myths about the meaning of the first 100 days of a presidency. The term was first used by President Franklin Roosevelt in describing the 100-day session of Congress at the beginning of his first term. Since then, the term has largely been used to measure the success of a first-term president — even though the first 100 days is a poor measuring stick for a new president’s success. Historically, the first 100 days were used to describe a time when the new president’s influence, having just won the election, is at its highest and strongest, leading to an idea of a grace-period of a new president. Heightened partisanship has all but eliminated any goodwill between the parties that may have existed before, making it more difficult than ever to move the president’s priorities through Congress, even during times of unified government.
The first 100 days can, however, set the tone for what to expect from a presidency, which brings me to Trump. Some things, like antagonizing the media and responding harshly to criticism, we can take for granted. Other things may not be so clear because we’ve never seen a president who is more controversial in times of such contrasting polarization. While details have been difficult to find, President Trump can be expected to make a host of Executive Orders to repeal President Obama’s Executive Orders, halt regulations and fulfill many of his campaign promises concerning lobbying and trade. If anything, Trump is a Washington outsider, which is undoubtedly part of how he got elected. This means that we cannot expect him to act as a Washington insider would, making predicting his first actions as president very difficult.
Congress will be more predictable, which may in-turn, make the White House more predictable, even if more antagonistic. Congress has made two things impeccably clear about its first set of actions in the new 115th Congress: it will repeal Obamacare, as well as use the Congressional Review Act to roll back a bevy of administrative regulations. Let’s look at each individually.
Obamacare has been a partisan issue for its entire existence. Republicans in the House have voted dozens of times ceremonially to defund or repeal Obamacare. Senate Republicans, who only took control of the Senate in 2014, have had a harder time moving legislation, but there had never really been any threat to the healthcare law so long as a Democrat resided in the White House. As we know, this is no longer the case. The issue for Republicans has become less and less about how to repeal Obamacare, which should be a relatively simple task with majorities in both Chambers of Congress, and more about how to replace it with a plan that retains some of the law’s more popular elements. This includes elements such as children staying on their parents’ insurance until age 26 and protections for people with pre-existing conditions, while lowering the costs and providing quality care for those currently insured under the exchanges. So far, Republicans have failed to propose any plan or outline for how to replace Obamacare, which will likely delay action to fully repeal.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) grants Congress the ability to repeal or reject regulations made by the executive branch within 60 legislative days. This makes approximately 150 recently finalized regulations vulnerable to CRA action by Congress. If CRA is used against a regulation, the administration may never propose a substantially similar regulation again. Regulations targeting the coal industry, the natural gas industry and the Securities and Exchange Commission are the most likely early targets. However, expect to also see the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act move quickly through the House, and eventually through the Senate. REINS, which has long been a priority of NUCA, would require Congressional approval for any regulation with an economic cost of $100 million or more. This would significantly curb costly regulation from going into effect and serve as a deterrent for any administration looking to take regulatory action.
While infrastructure was a part of candidate-Trump’s stump speech, it doesn’t seem Congress has warmed to the idea of moving quickly on legislation to measurably benefit America’s roads, bridges and water systems. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has said that discussions about infrastructure legislation will take place when Congress addresses the budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 sometime in late April. How the White House has prioritized infrastructure remains to be seen.
Will Brown is NUCA’s director of Government Affairs.