After Donald Trump’s stunning election victory, Democratic legislators now face a fork in the road: cooperate with Trump or oppose him at every turn.
Given the tenor of the Trump campaign – including its attacks on Latinos, Muslims and other minorities – it’s understandable that many Democrats feel the urge to dig in their heels. But many of Trump’s campaign promises actually represent long-time Democratic priorities. Given these overlaps, it’s in Democrats’ best interest to at least explore working with Trump on these issues:
Infrastructure Rebuilding the United States’ crumbling infrastructure – which needs $3.6 trillion in spending by 2020, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers – represents the best opportunity for Democrats to advance one of their longtime priorities. Senate Republicans previously blocked two major Democratic-sponsored infrastructure bills, leaving President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats fuming.
Trump, by contrast, made infrastructure a campaign priority, calling for $500 billion in additional spending – even arguing that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s own infrastructure plan was not ambitious enough. But given conservatives’ open resistance to Trump’s infrastructure spending, the president-elect will almost certainly need Congressional Democrats’ help to get an infrastructure bill passed.
This does not mean Democrats should back whatever infrastructure plan Trump proposes – particularly if funding for the plan involves giving tax breaks to private investors without the direct public spending most experts agree is necessary to fix the most dire infrastructure problems. But if Democrats can negotiate a compromise with Trump – perhaps through a program that combines direct government spending supplemented by private investment – then they should help Trump push an infrastructure bill through Congress.
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Research shows that the EITC – which puts additional money into the pockets of the working poor through tax rebates – is an ideal poverty fighting tool. Democrats have long called for expanding it, and both conservative and liberal think tanks agree with them. Most importantly, so does Trump. In fact, Trump even called for supplementing the EITC by creating new Dependent Care Savings Accounts (DCSAs), which would allow families to create tax-deductible accounts to spend on child care expenses or after-school enrichment programs, as well as covering in-home nursing expenses for elderly dependents.
Trump ‘s plan even offers to provide a partial government grant to families’ DCSAs once they are established, a step analogous to the 401(K) matching many organizations – including the federal government – provide their employees. If Democrats want to provide direct assistance to lower and middle-income workers, they support a Trump bill to should test Trump’s level of commitment to implement his EITC and DCSA proposals.
Ending the “Carried Interest” Tax Loophole Carried interest is a tax loophole that allows partners at hedge funds and private equity funds – generally among the richest Americans – to treat their profits as capital gains rather than ordinary income. This means fund managers’ profits are taxed at a maximum of 20 percent, as opposed to the 39.6 percent top salaried workers must pay. Even wealthy investors like Warren Buffet and Bill Gross decry the carried interest loophole, and despite the campaign rancor between them, both Trump and Hillary Clinton agreed that carried interest should be taxed as ordinary income.
Democrats should remind Trump that he publicly committed to finally ending this loophole – and should work with him if he takes the initiative to do so.
Trade Policy Trump has already promised to kill the Trans Pacific Partnership deal with Asia, but he does agree with Democrats on some aspects of American trade policy. The president-elect questioned the fairness of many American trade arrangements during the campaign, and leading Senate Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders share Trump’s concern.
Not all free trade is bad, though, and research shows that trade provides an overall benefit to the American economy. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some tweaks to American policy. While Trump described NAFTA as the “worst trade deal ever,” he left open the possibility of renegotiating NAFTA rather than withdrawing from it. Senate Democrats should therefore support the idea propagated by one Trump adviser for streamlining NAFTA and ending the proliferation of special-interest clauses added since the treaty was first negotiated.
Non-Interventionist Foreign Policy During his campaign Trump bemoaned the $4 trillion the United States spent “trying to topple various people,” arguing that the money would have been better spent on infrastructure. Since his election, Trump has doubled-down on these views, promising to put forward a non-interventionist foreign policy that focused on confronting Islamic State and other groups.
Democrats such as Sanders in the Senate and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) in the House share Trump’s desire to scale back American interventionism. Even President Obama has gradually developed an aversion to regime change, resisting calls for a no-fly zone in Syria. When Trump inevitably comes under pressure from Republican hawks who want a more interventionist approach, Democrats who share Trump’s skepticism about regime change should help him resist these calls.
While there’s no guarantee Democrats and Trump will agree on all of these policies, Democrats lose nothing by at least exploring opportunities to cooperate with Trump. From a policy perspective, declining the opportunity to achieve Democratic goals just to punish Trump only hurts the very working and middle class constituencies Democrats claim to support.
Cooperating with Trump in these areas also makes sense politically, since it could drive a wedge between Trump and the Republicans in Congress who oppose these ideas.
To be clear, Democrats should still resist Trump in a number of areas. First and foremost, if Trump continues the types of attacks on women and minorities he made during his campaign, particularly if he attempts to introduce a Muslim registry, Democrats must condemn him. They should also demand that Trump reproach his most noxious supporters among white nationalists or the so-called “alt-right.”
On policy, Democrats must confront any attempts by Trump to roll back the United States’ commitment to fighting climate change global warming, particularly if Trump decides to go forward with his pledge to pull out of last year’s Paris climate agreement. If Trump tries to dismantle Obamacare – and especially if he pushes a plan that repeals but doesn’t replace the program – Democrats must follow up on their plan to block Trump by pointing out the millions Americans who would be left without health insurance and targeting persuadable Republican senators to join them in opposition to the new president.
Democrats must also push back against Trump if he sides with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to gut Medicare by privatizing it.
Finally, Democrats should stand firm in their support for a path to citizenship and resist any radical Trump initiatives to deport millions.
Democrats will have much to fight Trump on. But that should not stop them from supporting him where it advances their own agenda.