With the State of the Union now taking place after the shutdown, the date remains up in the air. But whenever it happens, conservatives will be listening closely for ideas and solutions that build on the success of the past two years. Presidents typically use the occasion to talk about two things. First, how their policies have made life better for all Americans. Second, what they want Congress to address to make things better still.
President Trump certainly has a great deal to brag about on the economic front. His landmark 2017 tax cuts, paired with a long overdue rollback in needlessly stifling regulations, have kicked a previously sluggish recovery into overdrive. As a result, more Americans are working than ever before. The overall unemployment rate is at the lowest level in 50 years, while unemployment among African Americans and Latinos is at an record low. Wages are higher with the lowest paid workers logging the biggest gains. Finally, manufacturing is back. The future also looks promising. Business owners remain optimistic, while job openings outnumber job seekers.
What should President Trump call on Congress to do about the economy? First, do no harm. It is hard to think of anything that would kill business and job growth faster than raising taxes or adding new government regulations. One of the biggest sectors of the economy benefiting from White House policies is energy. President Trump should certainly not shy away from boasting about this success. American oil production is up, and gas prices are down. In December, our oil and petroleum exports actually exceeded our imports for the first time in more than 35 years.
Despite this good news, the left is lining up behind the radical “Green New Deal” proposal to decarbonize the United States. The plan is technically and financially untenable as it would cost more than $2 trillion. President Trump should call on Congress to go in the opposite direction. Ending government subsidies for preferred technologies or energy companies would be a good place to start. It would no doubt help taxpayers avoid more debacles like Solyndra and encourage innovation and competition that will keep the American energy renaissance firing on all cylinders.
Health care remains a top concern for most Americans. Even the left now realizes that ObamaCare has failed. Their call for “Medicare for All” tacitly admits that ObamaCare cannot be saved. Costs remain too high, while access to quality care remains problematic, especially for many enrolled in Medicaid. Last year, premiums for ObamaCare bronze policies rose 16 percent across the nation. Yet premiums for those same policies fell by as much as 38 percent in the two states that had waivers from ObamaCare mandates. States can clearly develop ways to ensure care for those with preexisting conditions and cut consumer costs, without requiring new federal spending. President Trump should encourage Congress to follow this path, rather than lock down a health system driven by Washington.
Getting their children a good education remains a top priority for most families. The best way to achieve that is by expanding school choice to empower families to choose from among a variety of educational options. The federal government has an important albeit limited role to play here, given its special responsibilities for three sets of students. These are the children of those serving in the military, children attending public schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Education, and children living in the District of Columbia. President Trump should call on Congress to expand school choice options for all three types of families so that they can give their children the best possible education to prepare for bright futures.
Trade has been a signature issue for President Trump so he is bound to mention it in his speech. While the administration successfully concluded the negotiations for the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement, Congress still needs to pass legislation to implement the deal. President Trump is sure to urge lawmakers to move expeditiously on the matter.
But the safest bet about the State of the Union is that President Trump will talk about immigration and border security. After all, it is contention over the wall that led to the ongoing government shutdown and Speaker Nancy Pelosi throwing the timing and venue of the speech in question. Virtually no one expects President Trump to cave on the wall, though doubtless he will renew his invitations to leaders in Congress to resume negotiations on the matter. To grease the skids, he might even suggest ways of funding the wall without adding a penny to the federal budget. One possible source of ideas is the “Blueprint for Balance” that maps out how Congress can save more than $12 trillion in spending over 10 years.
President Trump should not to limit his discussion of illegal immigration to the wall. Glaring loopholes in federal law have resulted in widespread abuse of asylum claims and are actually encouraging illegal immigration, especially among children and families. It is fully within the power of Congress to close these loopholes, and President Trump should call on them to do so. He should also insist that lawmakers reject the 1997 Flores Settlement to allow children to remain with their parents while awaiting adjudication of their asylum claims or prosecution for violating the law.
President Trump has so many successes to crow about, but there is no shortage of problems that still attention. One of them is the partisan polarization that separates our leaders. It would be tempting to use the State of the Union and the Democratic response to score political points. However, this could also be an opportunity to reset relations and give our leaders the resolve to work together to overcome the very real challenges facing our nation. This is a fond hope, perhaps, but a hope nonetheless.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 1/24/19