On the roster: Mr. Trump’s very expensive address - White House official says travel ban delay is for optics - Trump considering giving Pentagon more authority - Iraq may be exempted from travel ban - Now who wants snakes on a plane?
MR. TRUMP’S VERY EXPENSIVE ADDRESS
President Trump’s maiden address to a joint session of Congress was a lot of things. It was poised, presidential, restorative to his political fortunes, inclusive and maybe even a little visionary.
But it was also something else: very expensive.
Trumpism, which the president stabbed at defining in the campaign and then etched in blood during his convention and inaugural addresses, came into a different relief Tuesday night.
It was the more positive, optimistic telling of his new nationalism. He added grace notes about minority groups, shied away from taunting or tormenting his rivals, and summoned his countrymen to the project of restoring, what else, American greatness. Trump very neatly chose a concrete date for his still somewhat amorphous objectives: the 2026 bisesquicentennial of American independence – which, not coincidentally, would be one year after the end of the second term for which Trump is already running.
Trump is recasting the presidency as something more akin to a big-city mayoralty, and every big-city mayor knows crime – or the fear of it – is always a top issue for citizens.
Trump’s focus on illegal drug trafficking, urban violence, murderous illegal immigrants as well as the very same border security pitch that propelled him through the 2016 campaign, is all part of that. And it’s also the most conservative part of his message, other than Trump’s eliminationist rhetoric on ISIS and his paean to Judge Neil Gorsuch.
While conservatives may disagree amongst themselves about how much legal immigration there ought to be, only a handful of libertarian purists favor unrestricted in-migration to the United States.
As Democrats found out to their chagrin, enforcing existing immigration laws is broadly popular. Other things that are broadly popular include massive domestic stimulus spending, free money for new mothers and universal health insurance. But these things are not conservative.
That’s not a criticism, especially since Trump has never pretended to be a conservative when it comes to the size, cost and role of the federal government. And he probably wouldn’t be president today if he had.
Trump says he inherited a “mess” from President Barack Obama, but he also inherited some goodies like expanded executive authority and, perhaps most valuable to Trump right now, the death of fiscal discipline in American politics certainly as far as Democrats go.
We stipulate that politicians only care about deficit spending when the other party is in power, but we’re in a special place now.
Obama was rankly hypocritical when he made the case for essentially unlimited stimulus spending on the grounds that money was cheap to borrow. This was the same guy that described former President George W. Bush’s much more moderate spending as “unpatriotic.”
Raising taxes and cutting spending are not fun. Cutting ribbons on new interstates is. And since subsequent generations have no representation in Congress, there are only a few voices arguing against profligacy in their own parties.
Remember former Vice President Joe Biden’s famous line that the country had to “spend money to keep from going bankrupt”? Well, it’s over to the Republicans now who want to “grease the pump” with stimulus spending, but do it on a scale that would’ve made even Biden blush.
You could see the fear in Republican eyes when Trump was talking about that budget-busting plan. But they’re not going to say anything just yet. It would be hard to find a Democrat who doesn’t like borrowing money for Keynesian economic intervention.
By putting infrastructure front and center in his address, Trump made it clear that he is going to resist Republican efforts to sidetrack, slim down or ignore the plan. But a trillion dollars in infrastructure may be nothing compared to Trump’s other proposals.
The president is calling for new mothers to get paid for staying home. It’s a move that appeals to both social conservatives and feminists and certainly lets Trump put his best foot forward with female voters in what promises to be an endless election season.
Given the enormous complexity ahead of this Congress and administration, however, that’s still pure pie in the sky. The slice that’s on the table right now, however, is ObamaCare, the national health insurance program currently on life support.
Trump was certainly simpatico with Speaker Paul Ryan when he talked about components of the replacement for ObamaCare the president seeks: caps on medical malpractice lawsuits; the ability for insurers to sell policies across state lines; and tax subsidies rather than welfare payments to help defray costs for middle class Americans unable to afford insurance.
But Trump also said that he wanted to eliminate the individual mandate, which happens to be the only fiscally conservative part of ObamaCare.
Liberty-loving conservatives hate the mandate, not just for using the power of the government to compel people to buy a service from another citizen, but also for the precedent it sets. On the question money, though, the mandates for individuals and employers to purchase or provide health insurance is the only thing keeping ObamaCare costs in check.
Without the government forcing healthy people who don’t want insurance to purchase it, insurance companies would never be able to survive the onslaught of sick and elderly patients that the law requires them to cover, no matter what.
If Trump wants insurance companies to keep taking customers with preexisting conditions, but simultaneously takes away the revenue from those forced to purchase policies under the mandate, the bottom falls out and taxpayers invariably foot the bill.
Trump and Republicans in Congress have made clear that they do not want anyone to lose their coverage as a result of the repeal of ObamaCare. Without the individual and business mandates that’s sounding like a very expensive proposition. At the very least, it would mean an enormous bailout to the health insurance industry very soon.
The whispered worry in Washington today is that all this breakneck borrowing might coincide with a long-feared hike in inflation and thereby climbing interest rates. The amount of interest taxpayers already covering in the federal budget, something like $225 billion a year, would skyrocket if interest rates were to climb.
Obama’s repeated argument about the immateriality of deficits sounded dicey even with low interest rates. If you see an inflationary curve following the improved growth in recent months, servicing the federal debt could blow out much of the already shrinking part of the federal budget that is discretionary spending.
Like every president arguing in favor of debt, Trump says his plan will produce so much economic growth that federal coffers will overflow. And while Republicans will certainly be more sympathetic to that argument than when Obama made it, there will be many who pause at Trump’s expensive suggestions.
The president needs the debt ceiling to be lifted in the next two weeks, so the pressure’s on.
THE RULEBOOK: FINDING THE MEAN
“It was a thing hardly to be expected that in a popular revolution the minds of men should stop at that happy mean which marks the salutary boundary between power and privilege…” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 78
TIME OUT: BEFORE THERE WAS TWITTER…
Smithsonian: “Criticism of Nazi officials was rarely, if ever, uttered in public. Normally, tightly controlled German radio stations broadcast only approved news, German folk music and classical music. But here, on broadcast bands policed by the government, was a self-proclaimed, devoted Nazi and old guard Prussian military veteran spewing hatred for Nazi leaders…His profanity-laced tirades lambasted Nazi officials’ buffoonery, sexual perversity and malfeasance, condemning their indifference to the German people’s deprivations…In reality, the Chief was voiced by a 39-year-old German exile named Peter Seckelmann. A journalist and writer of detective stories before the war, the Berlin native had fled Nazi Germany to England in 1938…[H]e knew enough of both barracks curses and Germany under Hitler to hit the right notes as he railed against the Nazi Party leaders’ shortcomings. The Chief was just one part of a grander counterintelligence scheme put on by the British government.”
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WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL SAYS TRAVEL BAN DELAY IS FOR OPTICS
Politico: “President Donald Trump won’t sign a revised travel ban on Wednesday as had been anticipated, two senior administration officials confirmed. One of the officials indicated that the delay was due to the busy news cycle, and that when Trump does sign the revised order, he wanted it to get plenty of attention. “We need [the executive order] to have its own time to breathe,” the official said. The Trump team has repeatedly delayed issuing the new order after its original version was stayed by courts amid a slew of legal challenges.”
Iraq may be exempted from travel ban - AP: “President Donald Trump's new immigration order will remove Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens face a temporary U.S. travel ban, U.S. officials say, citing the latest draft in circulation. Trump is expected to sign the executive order in the coming days. Four officials told The Associated Press that the decision followed pressure from the Pentagon and State Department, which had urged the White House to reconsider Iraq's inclusion on the list given its key role in fighting the Islamic State group.”
TRUMP CONSIDERING GIVING PENTAGON MORE AUTHORITY
Daily Beast: “The White House is considering delegating more authority to the Pentagon to greenlight anti-terrorist operations like the SEAL Team 6 raid in Yemen that cost the life of a Navy SEAL, to step up the war on the so-called Islamic State, multiple U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast. President Donald Trump has signaled that he wants his defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, to have a freer hand to launch time-sensitive missions quickly, ending what U.S. officials say could be a long approval process under President Barack Obama that critics claimed stalled some missions by hours or days. In declared war zones, U.S. commanders have the authority to make such calls, but outside such war zones, in ungoverned or unstable places like Somalia, Libya, or Yemen, it can take permissions all the way up to the Oval Office to launch a drone or a special operations team.”
TRUMP BLUNTS CRITICS OF YEMEN RAID BY ELEVATING WIDOW
NYT: “Carryn Owens, the wife of Chief Petty Officer William (Ryan) Owens, a Navy SEAL who was killed during a commando raid authorized by Mr. Trump in January, had been invited to watch the speech from the first lady’s box, next to the president’s daughter, Ivanka. For a little more than two minutes, as Mr. Trump pressed his case to build up the American military, Ms. Owens became the image of American bravery that the president had hoped his words would invoke. Dressed simply in black, Ms. Owens looked upward and repeatedly mouthed the words ‘I love you,’ as a full House chamber rose to applaud in rare bipartisan unity…Within minutes, the image began ricocheting across social media and in doing so, deflected attention over the raid from the growing criticism that has dogged its aftermath to the face of grief.”
ZINKE CONFIRMED FOR INTERIOR
Fox News: “Montana GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke was confirmed Wednesday as President Trump’s Interior secretary, responsible for more than 400 million acres of public land. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 68-31 to confirm the two-term House member and former Navy SEAL. Zinke, during his confirmation hearings in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, promised if given the post to take a ‘multi-use’ approach to federal land that allows recreation like hunting, fishing and hiking along with mining for coal and drilling for oil and natural gas.”
AUDIBLE: YOU GET A CABINET SEAT, AND YOU GET A CABINET SEAT…
“I actually never considered the question, even the possibility. Now, I’m thinking, Oh!” – Oprah Winfrey to Bloomberg on whether she’s reconsidered running for president.
China refutes Trump’s claim on factory losses - Fox News
Huntsman reportedly in talks to be ambassador to Russia - CNN
Graham says Trump budget deal is ‘dead on arrival’ - The Hill
Dems go Mayberry with rebuttal - Fox News
Trump’s joint session of Congress speech most tweeted ever - USA Today
Trump signals openness to citizenship for illegals who entered U.S. as minors - NYT
Dems groan as Trump announces new office for victims of violent crimes done by illegal immigrants - The Hill
Penguin Random House announces book deal with the Obamas estimated in the tens of millions - NPR
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Why do we spend so much of our time and energy fighting about who is going to pay for our healthcare rather than why we have the most expensive healthcare system, per capita, in the world? And without always the best outcomes?” – Rob Lawrence, Nazareth, Pa.
[Ed. note: I think you make a great point, Mr. Lawrence. The central problem in American health care is that, like higher education, there is too much distance between paying for the service and obtaining it. Third-party payers, whether they be governmental, parental or corporate, have different priorities than the people using the product or service. You have heard of the cruise ship buffet analogy when it comes to American health care. When people take a cruise or go to an all-inclusive resort, they pig out at the buffet, taking the tastiest morsels and trying the most exotic, expensive dishes. After all, it’s already paid for. Getting one’s money’s worth out of a set fee is one we all understand, so do the people who set the prices. The reason your Advil in the hospital costs $25 and your low-sodium egg salad sandwich cost $30 is because of all of the costs that are built into, and shifted around, inside the health care system. There are those who have suggested bringing rationality to pricing by a simple but unpopular mechanism: taxing employee health benefits as income. It might work since Americans would likely gravitate toward catastrophic coverage paired health savings accounts. But in in a city famous for its lack of political courage there seems no chance that such a bold move will happen anytime soon.]
“Chris, I almost always enjoy your halftime report partly because of your flair for the ‘homey’ touch. I have a correction for your star etymology [in Tuesday’s Time Out section of Halftime Report]. The first use for star to describe a person (in my experience) is in the Bible. In Numbers 24:17, Moses prophesied that a star would appear in Israel’s future and accomplish great things. That prophecy was fulfilled 400 years later in Second Samuel 8 when the new King David accomplished those specific deeds.’ FYI.” – Dallas Dobbins, Birmingham, Ala.
[Ed. note: Mr. Dobbins, you have us and The Atlantic on that one. Thanks for pointing it out.]
“For God’s sake, it only been 40 days! Chill!” – Keith McIntyre, Statesboro, Ga.
[Ed. note: Well, Mr. McIntyre, as the great Yogi Berra said, “It gets late early out there.” He was referring to the way the sun came into left field at Yankee Stadium, but it also applies to presidential administrations. Trump doesn’t have to remake the nation in his first hundred days, but failure to capitalize on the momentum of the beginning of an administration can lead to paralysis and, eventually, political death. Some recover, as Bill Clinton did after his stumbling start. Others have not. But your man is underway after his speech to Congress and has two months before his homework is due.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
NOW WHO WANTS SNAKES ON A PLANE?
BBC: “A flight from Heathrow to San Francisco has been cancelled after a mouse was spotted on the plane. Passengers on the 10:40 GMT British Airways flight were strapped in and waiting to take off when the cancellation was announced. Carly, who was on the flight, said the air crew announced that ‘a rather unusual occurrence has occurred.’ They said rules stipulate planes cannot take off with mice onboard and that another flight would be laid on. ‘I’m not sure people knew how to react,’ said Carly. ‘There was general disbelief.’ She said they had been told another plane had been found, but the passengers would have to wait several hours for a gate to be found before the aircraft could take off.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“This is without a doubt the best speech he ever gave. In fact, this should have been his inaugural address. ” – Charles Krauthammer reacting to President Trump’s speech Tuesday night.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.