Expect a lot more of the same if Trump wins a second term

The Associated Press

Expect to see a lot more of the same if there’s a second Trump administration.

President Donald Trump has consistently pointed to tax cuts and regulatory relief as key successes of his first four years in office. He has repeatedly pushed for the end of the Obama-era health law but has yet to deliver a plan to replace it. And he has spent most of this year defending his response to the coronavirus pandemic while fighting openly with scientists and medical experts about vaccines, treatments and more.

If he gets another four years in office, there’s no indication of any big policy shift.


A glimpse at how a second Trump term might look:

ECONOMY

Low unemployment and a soaring stock market were Trump’s calling cards before the pandemic. While the stock market clawed its way back after cratering in the early weeks of the crisis, unemployment stands at 7.9%, and the nearly 10 million jobs that remain lost since the pandemic began exceed the number that the nation shed during the entire 2008-09 Great Recession.

And by Friday, Wall Street had closed out another punishing week with the S&P 500 posting its first back-to-back monthly loss since the pandemic first gripped the economy in March. Much of the market’s focus has been on what’s to come for the economy when coronavirus counts are rising at troubling rates across Europe and the United States.

Trump has predicted that the U.S. economy will rebound in late 2020 and take off like a “rocket ship” in 2021. He promises that a coronavirus vaccine or effective therapeutics will soon be available, allowing life to get back to normal. His push for a payroll tax cut over the summer was thwarted by stiff bipartisan opposition. But winning a second term – and a mandate from voters – could help him resurrect the idea.

An analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that Trump’s plan would increase the debt by about $5 trillion over 10 years. That’s on top of the $13 trillion in deficits the country is already expected to run up during that time.

The national debt now stands at more than $20 trillion.

CORONAVIRUS

Trump insists that the country is “rounding the corner” on the pandemic and has stepped up calls on Democratic governors to lift coronavirus restrictions in their states. But Trump’s sunny outlook belies the ground truth in many states – including several critical to his path to 270 Electoral College votes – that have seen a surge in the virus.

The president has often disputed medical experts in his own administration, among them infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, on key issues surrounding the virus, including the timing of a vaccine, the need for social distancing and the importance of masks to contain the virus. His campaign rallies were filled with people gathered less than 6 feet apart without masks. His announcement of the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court was widely regarded to be a super spreader event after he and several other people in attendance were diagnosed with the virus.

Trump spent three days at Walter Reed National Medical Center after his diagnosis. One of the drugs he received, remdesivir, has since been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of COVID-19.

Trump also says he’s “pretty damn certain” that vaccines and new treatments for the virus are coming in the not-so-distant future. Scientists are more cautious about the timing.

Congress passed and Trump signed into law a more than $2 trillion coronavirus relief package earlier this year, but the two sides have been unable to agree on an additional aid package.

HEALTH CARE

As a candidate for the White House, Trump promised that he would “immediately” replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law with a plan of his own that would provide “insurance for everybody” with lower costs. Americans are still waiting for a plan that Trump has been teasing for many months.

He may be counting on the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear a case challenging “Obamacare” soon after the election. The court now has a solid conservative majority with the confirmation of Barrett as a justice.

Trump officials say the administration has made strides by championing transparency on hospital prices, pursuing a range of actions to curb prescription drug costs and expanding lower-cost health insurance alternatives for small businesses and individuals. But those incremental steps fall far short of the sweeping changes he promised.

The number of uninsured people has gone up on Trump’s watch, from 27.6 million people under age 65 in 2017 to 29.2 million last year, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. There are no solid statistics on uninsured Americans this year, after millions lost job-related coverage in the pandemic.

On prescription drugs, Trump came into office promising change so Americans would see the lower costs common in other economically advanced countries. But he backed away from a 2016 campaign promise to authorize Medicare to negotiate prices. And a big, bipartisan deal with Congress to reduce costs for Medicare recipients and restrain price increases eluded him.

His administration did reach a narrower, yet significant agreement with drug companies and insurers to limit out-of-pocket costs for insulin for seniors to $35 a month. A series of regulations to try to curb drug costs remains a work in progress.

FOREIGN POLICY

Trump’s foreign policy centres on his mantra of “America First,” but in the months leading up to the election, he engaged in plenty of international diplomacy.

The Trump administration scored a big win in recent weeks by nudging three Arab states – Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates – to normalize relations with Israel, and Trump says more countries will follow. Historically, Arab nations have refused to recognize Israel until the Palestinians’ goal of an independent state was realized. Trump is aiming to create an alliance of countries against Iran.

Trump officials also brokered an economic co-operation agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, bitter foes in the Balkan wars. The administration, however, is still trying to reach an agreement with Russia to extend the last remaining arms control agreement between the two nations, which expires in early February.

He counts as another major achievement his efforts to cajole more NATO members to fulfil their pledge to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defence.

Trump also pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, saying it was one-sided in favour of Iran. He’s announced that the U.S. is withdrawing from the intermediate-range nuclear missile treaty with Russia and the Open Skies Treaty, which permits 30-plus nations to conduct observation flights over each other’s territory. He later said he might reconsider pulling out of that treaty.

The president has reduced to about 3,000 the number of troops in Iraq. The U.S. plans to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan to at least 4,500 in November, although Trump wants them all withdrawn by the end of the year. He also counts his engagement with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un as a foreign policy victory, yet he’s been unable to prod Kim to give up his nuclear program.

ABORTION

Before becoming a presidential candidate, Trump described himself as a strong abortion-rights proponent. But after coming to Washington, he pushed for overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that 47 years ago established a constitutional right to abortion.

Anti-abortion groups hope the addition of Barrett to the Supreme Court will provide a majority to overturn Roe. Barrett has declined to characterize Roe as a “super-precedent” that must not be overturned, although she says that she sets her personal views aside when weighing cases.

Trump also has barred federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions. He supports the Hyde Amendment, a series of federal laws that ban the use of taxpayer money to pay for abortions except in cases of rape or incest or to save the woman’ s life.

TRADE

Trump views the signing of two major trade deals – an updated pact with Mexico and Canada and the first phase of a China agreement – as signature achievements. The U.S. and China signed in January, less than two months before the pandemic put an enormous strain on U.S.-China relations. Trump says the first phase would lead to China buying roughly $200 billion over two years in U.S. agricultural products, energy and other American products.

In return, the U.S. cancelled or reduced tariffs on an array of China imports. So far, China is significantly behind in meeting its purchasing commitments, according to tracking from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The second phase of the deal is expected to focus on tougher issues between the countries, including Trump’s wish to get China to stop subsidizing its state-owned enterprises. But for Trump, who has come to frequently refer to the coronavirus as the “China virus,” it remains to be seen whether he will be able to effectively reengage Beijing on trade. Trump recently said he’s “not interested” in talking to China.