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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/16/16

Democrats, Trump and Congress: surprising common ground

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Article originally published the Tallahassee Democrat

By Robert Weiner and Ben Lasky

Although Democrats in Congress don't agree with most of Donald Trump's policies, there are some surprising areas of common ground in infrastructure spending and even concerning the Affordable Care Act. Congressional Democrats can either whine, curl up with a good book and their dogs as Hillary says she was tempted to do, or get to work.

While many remain are upset about the election, leading Democrats from Chuck Schumer to Bernie Sanders to Nancy Pelosi say they will work with President Elect Trump "where we can." Obama says the President-elect is "a pragmatist" not an "ideologue." As ultra-liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said, "If Trump is ready to go on rebuilding economic security for millions of Americans, so am I and so are a lot of other people-Democrats and Republicans." This is a far cry from Republican leaders in 2008 who supported Senate Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) statement that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President."

With President Elect Trump making fixing the country's infrastructure one of his biggest talking points and citing his Trillion dollar proposal to reporters as first up, this is an area where both parties can work together.

But there is a big "however." Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen on November 17 warned against the $1 trillion that Trump has proposed as a threat to the deficit. "There is not a lot of fiscal space," Yellen said. "The economy is operating relatively close to full employment," she added.

First of all the country has 4.6 percent unemployment, not the 3 percent "full employment" of previous decades. Second, the economy might not be in crisis, but the country's infrastructure is. The GAO says that as many as half of the country's bridges, roads, rails, and tunnels are in a state of disrepair, let alone the need for modernization to meet European standards.

According to The Florida Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers, in 2016 Florida's infrastructure rates out to a C. While the state's bridges were given a B, the school facilities received a D+ rating.

Yellen said nothing about the even bigger threat to the deficit-- $6 trillion worth of more debt--by Trump's proposed tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. A report by the Library of Congress said that you get five times more bang for the buck when government creates jobs than from tax breaks for the wealthy. Likewise, the Congressional Budget Office found that every dollar devoted to the middle class causes the economy to grow three times faster than a dollar for the rich. Bill Clinton called it "simple arithmetic:" When you take money from the Treasury and give it as tax breaks for the wealthy, you are literally taking money from jobs, education, food, and health.

President Elect Trump promised to replace -- and after meeting with Obama, said "amend," the Affordable Care Act, and keep some provisions. On 60 Minutes, he also said he would keep parts of the bill, specifically covering preexisting conditions and keeping kids on their parents' healthcare until they turn 26. Even though he specifically said the "replace" must be at the "same time" as the "repeal", he may be opposed by Congressional Republicans beholden to the insurance industry who simply try to kill the law.

Trump would be smart to keep the popular parts. 7.8 million Floridians have some pre-existing condition. When it comes to staying on parents' healthcare, since the law's passage there has been a 16 percent decline in uninsured Floridians ages 18 to 25.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, told the National Press Club that it is important to emphasize they will "fix, replace, repair" and will maintain the law's coverage of new recipients, pre-existing conditions, children through age 26, and other good provisions. "There's a lot of these areas we're in agreement on."

One area in which Democrats could achieve enormous Republican good will is tort reform, so that doctors cannot be sued into bankruptcy for trying to do their job. Obama suggested including state model tort reform programs in Obamacare but congressional Democrats, beholden to trial lawyers, rejected it. Now is a good time to try again. Joe Scarborough said that if Republicans kill Obamacare, states that Trump won and especially Florida, with its more than 1.5 million enrollees, could "become bright blue."

Trump promised not to touch Social Security. That's good news for Floridians, over three million of whom are over 65. One in five Floridians receives social security. Florida's great Claude Pepper was the House Aging Committee Chairman and negotiated with Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill to include the current protections. Social Security is actually solvent for decades to come. Much of the "deficit" talk is a myth to give commissions to Wall Street for privatizing it.

Democrats should look for areas where the sides can agree to help the country, starting with fixing the country's infrastructure and making sure millions continue to receive healthcare.

Robert Weiner is a former spokesman for the Clinton and Bush White Houses and was Chief of Staff of the House Aging Committee under Rep. Claude Pepper (D-FL). Ben Lasky is a senior policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.

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