7 Topics Trump Should Address in the State of the Union

COMMENTARY Conservatism

7 Topics Trump Should Address in the State of the Union

Jan 31, 2019 9 min read
Genevieve Wood

Counselor and Spokesperson, Donor Relations

Genevieve Wood is a leading voice for The Heritage Foundation as a counselor and spokesperson.
On Tuesday, President Trump, pictured delivering the State of the Union in 2018, should be sure to address border security, health care solutions, and out-of-control spending. Pool / Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump will finally deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Americans can certainly expect Trump to advocate border security, including a wall or fence—and he’ll no doubt tout the terrific success of the economy during his tenure.

But there’s also plenty more the president should address in his speech, including these seven topics as prescribed by Heritage Foundation policy experts:

  1. Conservative Health Care Solutions

In his State of the Union remarks, Trump should challenge Congress to work with his administration on lowering health care costs, improving choices, and protecting people with pre-existing conditions.  

Last year, the Trump administration acted to provide administrative relief and offer new flexibility to the states. States found that they could lower costs without new federal spending and also ensure those with pre-existing conditions could get access to care.  

These initial results are promising, but more needs to be done to get out from under many fundamentally flawed federal mandates and regulations. 

Original research by Heritage Foundation scholars shows that if states get even a little bit of freedom from federal mandates, they can bring costs down further while still protecting people with pre-existing conditions.   

To really turn things around, Trump should call on Congress to work with his administration to build on this success by providing states the statutory flexibility, resources, and incentives they need to lower costs and increase choices for all Americans. 

The president’s 2018 budget outlined a plan to do just that and falls in line with a new proposal that has the support of nearly 100 state and national policy leaders.  

Under the Health Care Choices Proposal, everyone who gets a subsidy to buy health care would have the option to use it to get private coverage of their choice—even those on Medicaid.  

The proposal eliminates a perverse federal-subsidy structure in Obamacare that rewards insurance companies that raise premiums by giving them more federal money.  

Instead, the plan would convert this failed spending scheme into a grant to states to achieve the goal of expanding choices and lowering costs while guaranteeing that everyone with pre-existing conditions is protected. 

An independent analysis of the plan by the Center for Health and Economy in research commissioned by The Heritage Foundation estimates that the proposal could lower premiums for individual coverage by up to 32 percent. 

This plan is far better than what some on the left want to do. A growing number of Democrats are rallying around proposals that outlaw private insurance and put everyone on a government-run plan.

Research by The Heritage Foundation shows these kinds of ideas will only make matters worse and result in reduced access to care, long waiting lists, and higher tax burdens for working Americans. 

Marie Fishpaw

2. Increased Border Security

Immigration is an emotionally and politically charged issue, but despite the emotion, good policy hasn’t changed. 

The United States still needs better enforcement and border security. 

The U.S. needs more and better border security, including a mix of barriers, technology, and agents, deployed where they are cost-effective and most needed. 

Perhaps more importantly, however, the president should make the case for better enforcement. When someone overstays a visa, when they show up at a port of entry and claim asylum, when they are apprehended by Border Patrol agents, or when they sneak across the border, the U.S. needs to have strong enforcement to make sure illegal immigrants are caught and removed. 

This means making the case for strong interior enforcement, improving Immigration and Customs Enforcement and our immigration courts, and closing loopholes that make it difficult to enforce the law. 

Of course, the U.S. also needs to engage with countries south of the border to slow the flow of illegal immigration from Latin America.

Trump can, and should, make the case for these much-needed reforms in his State of the Union address. 

David Inserra

3. Cutting Spending

Sixty-eight thousand dollars for every man, woman, and child. That’s what the $22 trillion national debt amounts to. The debt is growing at a rapid pace with annual deficits projected to exceed $1 trillion for the foreseeable future. Congress and the administration should seize the opportunity this year to pair any increase in the debt limit with significant fiscal restraints. 

Trump should make it crystal clear that the administration will not support an increase in the debt limit without commensurate budget reforms that reduce and control spending. 

Trump should also set the stage for Budget Control Act negotiations this year by demanding that any increase in the spending caps for discretionary spending must be paid for with spending reductions to duplicative, wasteful, and inappropriate federal spending. 

America cannot afford another deficit-busting budget deal.

Romina Boccia

4. End the Trade War With China

Conservatives want to hear that the trade war with China is coming to an end.

Since July of last year, the White House has levied new taxes on Chinese imports into America. Beijing has reciprocated against U.S. exporters, leading to an escalation in trade tensions. 

With no progress being made yet, U.S. businesses are concerned about the future of U.S. trade policy toward China, as U.S. exporters are losing their market share. 

Trump should use the State of the Union address to commit to the principles of free trade and to enforcing the rule of law. 

He also should affirm that the White House is close to making a trade deal with China that will remove the tariffs. 

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is leading the talks with Beijing to reach a trade deal before March 1. Concerns over Chinese practices regarding joint venture requirements, limits on American companies to set their own licensing agreements, the transfer of technology to China, and cyber intrusions have led to tariffs on more than $250 billion worth of annual imports from China. 

While the talks may lead to a deal in which Beijing buys more U.S. energy and agricultural goods, there are still limitations on what the U.S. can achieve through its unilateral approach.

Whether a deal is made or not, trade talks with China won’t end on March 1, but that doesn’t mean the tariffs on traded goods need to continue.

The White House should affirm its commitment to the principles of free trade by removing the unnecessary tariffs on the goods Americans buy from China. 

In addition, the White House should commit to its trade agreements while enforcing the rule of law. More should be done to punish those individuals and companies found guilty of cyber intrusions and intellectual property theft. 

Riley Walters

5. Safeguarding the Integrity of Our Elections

The president needs to remind members of Congress that protecting the right to vote and safeguarding the integrity of our elections is fundamental to preserving and maintaining our great republic. We must ensure that all eligible Americans are able to vote and that their vote is counted, not stolen or diluted by fraud or administrative errors.

While elected officials have a duty to guarantee the security and fairness of the election system, they must do so without restricting the ability of our citizens and candidates for public office to speak freely and otherwise to engage in the political process, including the ability to associate with other members of the public who share their beliefs.  

The federal government, and particularly Congress, also has an obligation to recognize the authority of the states under the Constitution to administer elections and must avoid federalizing and nationalizing a process that is the prerogative of state and local governments.

The president should assure that under his direction, the Justice Department will vigorously enforce federal laws that protect the right of Americans to register and to vote, require states to maintain the accuracy of voter registration rolls, and guarantee the right of members of our military and their families stationed abroad to vote.   

The Justice Department will also robustly prosecute election crimes and any attempts to subvert the voting process through fraud and ensure that noncitizens and others not entitled to vote do not manipulate the election system.

Hans von Spakovsky 

6. Help Americans Escape Poverty

The president should challenge Congress to work with him on reforms to help Americans escape poverty by addressing barriers to work and stable marriages. 

The welfare system today is vast: According to research by The Heritage Foundation, there are 89 federal means-tested welfare programs in the current welfare system, with a total annual cost of more than $1.1 trillion.  

The poor will benefit from a welfare system that encourages work and marriage. The current welfare system fails dramatically in both respects. 

Work is critical to promoting human dignity and establishing fairness between the taxpayer providing assistance and the person receiving it. Yet, of the 89 federal means-tested welfare programs, only three require work in order to get benefits.  

Marriage is the No. 1 factor in promoting upward social mobility among children, but our welfare system heavily penalizes families who marry.   

According to research by The Heritage Foundation, a mother and father with two children making $20,000 each will lose $6,302 in welfare benefits per year if they marry—a 15 percent drop in their total family income. 

Polls show that Americans support these fixes. More than 90 percent of Americans agree that able-bodied adults who receive cash, food, housing, and medical assistance should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving those government benefits. 

More than 80 percent of Americans agree that the welfare system should not penalize parents when they get married.    

Last year, Trump took steps to advance those important goals, and Congress should join him. A good place to start would be reforming the earned income tax credit and additional child tax credit, the nation’s second-largest means-tested cash welfare program.  

As research by The Heritage Foundation shows, the current program is flawed, does not promote work sufficiently, and severely punishes marriage. Congress should reform the credits to eliminate fraud, strongly promote work, and strengthen marriage. 

Marie Fishpaw

7. Improve Infrastructure

Rather than calling for a bill stuffed with pork projects and federal mandates, Trump should make the case to Congress and the nation for improving infrastructure by getting the federal government out of the way. 

The president’s deregulatory agenda is one of the driving forces behind today’s strong economy, and there is still a huge amount of potential infrastructure investment that can be generated with further regulatory reforms, many of which require new legislation.

Unfortunately, the swamp still insists on having Washington micromanage what gets built and where. 

With the national debt perilously close to $22 trillion, we cannot afford to put the cost of an infrastructure package on the federal credit card. Those who call for hiking the gas tax or instituting new mileage-based taxes would place the burden squarely on lower- and middle-class families. 

Instead, Trump and Congress should draw from the dozens of ideas presented in the 2019 President’s Budget and The Heritage “Blueprint for Balance” to find wasteful spending that can be cut to offset the cost of any new infrastructure spending. 

In addition, that spending should be focused on truly national infrastructure needs, such as the interstate highway system, not on local roads or transit. 

David Ditch

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal

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