Capitol Commentary

A midterm State of the Union assessment

By Fred Benson

Forty-six days from now, voters will go to the polls to set the nation’s political azimuth for the next two years. Most midterm elections are unconvincingly described as being far more important than others, but this time it’s real.

It is widely acknowledged that the histories of major events are written by the victors. With Republicans currently in control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, it might be interesting — and revealing — to construct, using their own statements, a history of this presidential term to date. It might go something like this:

“The Republican Party, led by President Donald J. Trump, has accomplished a great deal to reassert American leadership in the world order and strengthen our economy. We have added 3.8 million jobs in the first 20 months of President Trump’s incumbency and we passed an historic Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that reduced taxes, increased income for American families and made American business more competitive. And we have rolled back job-killing regulations that stifle growth.

“We have advanced free, fair and reciprocal trade deals that protect American workers. We have secured historic increases in defense funding, we will win the war in Afghanistan, we have ISIS on the run, we will be coming out of Syria very soon and North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat to the United States. We have taken bold steps to secure our borders, enforce our immigration laws and protect the safety and security of American communities. We will provide more effective and efficient health care coverage including lower drug prices for all Americans. We will do everything in our power to protect our students and keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others. Our polls are much better than being reported. There will be a red wave in November.”

What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty.

The 3.8 million job growth claim is eclipsed by the 4.3 million jobs created in the last 20 months of the Obama administration. Job recovery has been largely the province of the previous administration, not this one.

The tax bill permanently favors the wealthy while distributing small, temporary tax cuts to the middle class. A recent Pew Research Center analysis concluded that the average American wage, adjusted for inflation, has the same purchasing power it did in 1978. Further, more than $400 billion of the higher profitability flowing from the reduction in the corporate tax rate has been plowed into stock buybacks that primarily benefit corporate executives and shareholders. Lost in the Twitter clutter of the times, this bill added $1.5 trillion to the national debt.

Paring back regulatory requirements will no doubt reduce employer costs and improve earnings of workers in the short term, but doing so will also raise the risk of horrendous financial and/or climate events that could undermine the health and financial well-being of all Americans. Using EPA’s own numbers, two Harvard scientists have calculated that 80,000 more lives will be lost per decade from the rollback of clean air and water protections.

Our withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) created a serious vacuum in economic and geopolitical leadership in Asia, which will certainly be filled by China. It is hard to imagine any circumstances under which the looming global tariff war will benefit U.S. workers, including a large number of Trump supporters.

Our European allies are disgusted with us for weakening a 70-year security relationship. Abandoning the Iran agreement makes it likely they could develop nuclear weapons more rapidly, we are mired in our 17th year of war in Afghanistan with a highly uncertain outcome and we still have 14,000 advisory troops in Syria with no end in sight. North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is continuing his nuclear weapons development program while the U.S. has already agreed to suspend annual military maneuvers with the South Koreans. Meanwhile, our president pours accolades on Putin and Kim, two of the more brutal tyrants in the world.

Even though hundreds of children separated from their families after crossing the border have been released under court order, the overall number of detained migrant children has increased from 2,400 in 2017 to 12,800 today. These detention facilities are now running at 93 percent capacity.

Through executive action and court filings the administration has tried every way possible to undercut the Affordable Care Act enough that it collapses of its own weight. In the spotlight right after the November elections could be an attempt to end the “pre-existing condition” protection. If successful, 130 million Americans would be affected.

Shortly after the Texas school shooting, Trump told N.R.A. members that their Second Amendment rights would “never, ever be under siege as long as I am your president.” Consequently, nothing meaningful has been done to address the absurdity of allowing high-velocity, military-style weapons and large-capacity magazines on the streets of the U.S.

Contrary to the president’s analysis, recent poll averages suggest that a majority of Americans now question Trump’s fitness to continue in office. Most Republican members of Congress have participated in, endorsed, acquiesced to, or ignored the questionable actions and fallacious statements of this president and, by so doing, have caused some voters to begin questioning the fitness for office of their own GOP senators and representatives.

Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to gain control of the House. Analysts from both parties are now predicting at least that number will be reached. Additionally a House polling average shows voters favoring Democrats over Republicans by roughly 8 percentage points nationally. The Senate poses a tougher, but not insurmountable obstacle. At this point there is clear evidence that the 2018 election is a referendum on the president, and the trends are currently not in his favor. As with most elections, however, turnout will be the final determinant.

Indeed, this is a critical midterm election with our global presence, health and safety, and long-term fiscal well-being in the balance. The outcome will determine whether or not the downward spiral of American democracy driven by the current administration will continue or be slowed by the establishment of an effective blocking force in the House of Representatives.


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