Donald Trump now focussed on tax reform but that might not be any easier than repealing Obamacare

Donald Trump now focussed on tax reform but that might not be any easier than repealing Obamacare

Saturday mornings are frequently an occasion when Donald Trump scrolls down his Twitter feed and starts to launch forth.

On previous weekends he has insulted Alicia Machado, a former Mexican Miss Universe, urged his supporters to have their own rallies to counter the anti-Trump protests across the country, and even suggested his predecessor in the White House wiretapped him at Trump Tower.

But this Saturday, the President appeared chastened, unable to summon up much enthusiasm for the serious presidential business of tweeting insults and barbs.

“Obamacare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!” he wrote.

Mr Trump is licking his wounds after a humiliating defeat over the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Mr Trump had promised on the campaign trail to scrap the programme, which he termed a disaster, and replace it with something “great”.

As a result, he had gone along with a proposal by House Speaker Paul Ryan to make repeal of Obamacare his first legislative project. But even with the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, a vote on the new bill in the House of Representatives was called off at the last minute after Mr Ryan was forced to admit they did not have sufficient votes. 

Neither Mr Trump’s reported charm offensive, or his veiled threats, were sufficient to win over a handful of hardline conservative members who felt the Republican plan still gave too much away. 

“This was an interesting period of time,” Mr Trump said afterwards, in comments many believed underscored his political inexperience and naivety. “We learned a lot about loyalty and we learned a lot about the vote-getting process.”

The affair has been seen as deeply damaging to Mr Trump, who on day 64 of his presidency ought to have been enjoying an easy legislative win, galvanising his supporters and Republican colleagues, and using the momentum for his next project.

The President said his next focus would be a reform of the tax system, something that probably matters more to many of his supporters and which he has long supported. Many wondered why he did not make tax reform – or a major infrastructure spending bill – his first priority.

He told reporters that he and the party would go “very, very strongly for big tax cuts and tax reform”, after failing to get enough support for the healthcare vote. He said that taxation was an issue “I’ve always liked”, and suggested that the plan to introduce his proposal may be brought forward from May.

But that might not guarantee an easy win for Mr Trump either. The Associated Press pointed out the failure to make progress with Mr Ryan’s austere health bill means the Republicans will have less than $1 trillion in tax cuts to play with.

The Republican health plan would have repealed nearly around $1 trillion in taxes enacted under Mr Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The bill coupled the tax cuts with spending cuts for Medicaid, so it wouldn’t add to the budget deficit. 

Now, without the spending cuts, it will be much harder for Republicans to cut taxes without adding to the federal government’s debt. 

“Yes this does make tax reform more difficult,” said Mr Ryan. “But it does not in any way make it impossible.”

He added: “That just means the Obamacare taxes stay with Obamacare. We’re going to go fix the rest of the tax code.”

Meanwhile, with Democrats trying to not to crow too loudly about Mr Trump’s misfortune, Democratic senator Bernie Sanders warned supporters of another fight.

“We now must take on a horrific Republican budget and efforts at “tax reform” which means huge tax breaks to billionaires and corporations,” he said.

There is no way to interpret Mr Trump’s defeat as anything other than a major setback to the president, even if he could yet brush it off.

But even Republicans have admitted that the drama that played out on Capitol Hill on Friday raises doubts about the Republican’s ability to take on and pass major legislation.

Congressman Jodey Arrington of Texas, a first time member of the House, said: “This was my first big vote and our first big initiative in the line of things to come like tax reform. I think this would have given us tremendous momentum and I think this hurts that momentum.” 

Another Republican congressman, Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, added: “You always build on your last accomplishment.”