the floor beneath our feet

A Republican Congress could make Donald Trump lethal to America’s most vulnerable

Getty Images

There are a lot of catastrophic outcomes to be considered in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory.

The Supreme Court will almost certainly be a conservative body—one that could be even more hostile to voting rights, reproductive rights, and racial justice—for decades, if not more. Trump has said the work of undoing President Obama’s executive orders—from protections for LGBTQ federal workers to overtime pay—is a Day One priority. The racism that elevated him to the presidency has become bolder during this campaign, and having someone championed by white supremacists in the White House will make it only more front-facing and dangerous.

But what generally got lost in the deafening noise of the presidential election is the subtle campaign, waged by House Speaker Paul Ryan and other conservatives in Congress, to advance a Republican-led agenda that could be devastating to people in poverty, particularly people of color, immigrants, women (and most especially women of color), and LGBTQ people who are already on the economic margins.

This is why Ryan stayed with Trump—through the KKK endorsement, through the pussy-grabbing, through the fight he picked with the family of a dead Muslim soldier, through every moment since the reality television star turned president-elect rode down that escalator and called Mexican immigrants criminals.

Because he believed the pay-off, the long game at the end of an ugly campaign, was that a Republican-controlled Congress would have a malleable idiot of a president to work with while they gutted government programs for the poor, defunded Planned Parenthood, and expanded so-called religious liberty in a way that empowers exactly the kind of discrimination that was the centerpiece of the Trump campaign.

They have that now. This is what could happen next.

“This is our plan for 2017,” Ryan said at a press conference back in October, a copy of his “Better Way” policy agenda in hand. “Much of this you can do through budget reconciliation.”

After Trump won the presidency, Ryan released a statement reiterating the same basic idea: Forget the theater of his disdain for what he called “textbook racism” and supposedly indefensible sexism. Trump—in the end—is friend, not foe. Now he had a mandate.

The Affordable Care Act has been on the Republican kill list since it was first signed into law in 2010. This is the first and among the strongest points of agreement between Ryan and Trump. Once Congress votes, again, to repeal and replace the health care law, more than 20 million people could lose their health insurance with the stroke of Trump’s pen.

Ditto for defunding Planned Parenthood, an organization that Trump has said helps “millions and millions of women,” but would defund all the same. That means depriving millions of people on Medicaid of the ability to seek healthcare at Planned Parenthood.

And Ryan’s budget, if enacted, would be, in significant ways, the policy equivalent of the floor dropping out for people living in or on the cusp of poverty.

Tax cuts were one of the early points of unity between Trump and the Republican leadership he claimed to despise. Trump will not be “draining the swamp,” he will be swimming in it to help Ryan, or whoever becomes the next Speaker, pass the sort of tax cut that accrues almost exclusively to the top 1% of wealthy Americans.

 

This is what the non-partisan Tax Policy Institute had to say about Ryan’s budget (emphasis mine):

The plan would cut taxes at every income level in 2017, but high-income taxpayers would receive the biggest cuts, both in dollar terms and as a percentage of income… Three-quarters of the tax cuts would benefit the top 1 percent of taxpayers and the highest-income taxpayers (0.1 percent of the population, or those with incomes over $3.7 million in 2015 dollars) would experience an average tax cut of about $1.3 million, 16.9 percent of after-tax income… In 2025, the top 1 percent of households would receive nearly 100 percent of the total tax reduction.

As a basis of comparison, under Ryan’s budget, the poorest 20% of households would see an average tax reduction of $50. Fifty dollars.

Cuts to food assistance programs are also on Ryan’s wish list—and while Trump campaigned on protecting entitlements like Social Security, he has said nothing about his position on the programs, like SNAP, that aid families in poverty and help them feed their children.

Trump would remake Medicaid as we know it through a block-granting system that would give states a fixed amount of money to work with regardless of their residents’ healthcare needs. As the Urban Institute wrote in a recent assessment of this Republican-backed plan, the potential problem is pretty simple when you think about it: “When incomes fall, more people become eligible for Medicaid, but federal payments would remain fixed.” More need, in this case, would not equal more money.

These aren’t foregone conclusions—Trump is vengeful and never had a particularly warm relationship with the Speaker—but eight years of Republican fantasy under the Obama administration just got much closer to becoming a reality. Trump is dangerous. Trump with the backing of a Republican Congress intent on shredding the social safety net could be lethal.