Kevin Sweitzer: New year, same bad policy

Sunday, January 7, 2018 - 3:49pm

As 2017 turns to 2018, and the age of President Donald Trump continues into its second year, the emotional roller coaster that has taken place for progressive Americans has been nothing short of exhausting and difficult. From Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russian interests to sway the 2016 election, to the numerous attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Democrats have been left with various topics with which to focus their opposition. This has led many progressives down a dangerous path of disorganized brinkmanship that will only serve to advance Republican policy proposals for the remainder of the Trump administration.


Last year's greatest policy debate was the Republican-led effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.” Democrats were steadfast in their opposition to the repeal of the ACA, dramatically defeating a repeal bill on the floor of the U.S. Senate in September. However, while we were celebrating the preservation of the ACA, progressives unknowingly walked Obamacare to its grave.


December’s Republican-led tax overhaul bill — called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — represented the culmination of a year’s worth of policy objectives built into one bill. In addition to cutting corporate taxes and lowering tax rates, the bill, which Trump signed into law on Dec. 22, also repeals the individual mandate of the ACA. The individual mandate requires that all Americans purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty.


The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a failure on all levels by progressives to come together to advocate for the best interests of their constituents. Trump tweeted on Dec. 26, “Based on the fact that the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate has been terminated as part of our Tax Cut Bill, which essentially Repeals (over time) ObamaCare, the Democrats & Republicans will eventually come together and develop a great new HealthCare plan!” He correctly suggests the repeal of the individual mandate will bring about the end of ACA health insurance markets. This means more expensive insurance for everyone in addition to tax cuts for wealthy Americans. At the least, a complete repeal of the ACA would have started discussion of replacement, but the repeal we see now leaves everyone worse off.


As congressional Democrats eye their next target for “resisting” the Trump administration’s policy agenda — which may be shutting down the government over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — no progressives can feel good about what has happened thus far during Trump’s first term in office. Even as the focus of pundits shifts to the upcoming midterm elections and the special elections in Alabama and elsewhere, many on the left have placed their hopes in the impending “wave” of Democratic wins that will reclaim control of the legislature. Along with this shift of focus goes any hope of creating change, or ensuring the best representation of the people.


While dreaming of 2018 wins and celebrating the symbolic preservation of Obamacare are good for public perception of Democrats, progressives are failing their constituents on all levels to protect the values that they believe in, and are failing to stop the Trump administration’s objectives. In order to serve their constituents best, progressive congressional Democrats have to get real about stopping Trump’s policy proposals — even if this means giving in on other policy areas that are less important. If every Democratic call to action is a boilerplate “call your senator” and “elections have consequences,” then the call to action isn’t action, but is rather kicking the can down the road, with the hopes of a Democratic-majority Congress in the future.


This isn’t an outcome we can accept, as progressives, students or members of communities who will be affected by public policy changes in 2018. Doing nothing is a statement in and of itself, and while beneficial to the party, cannot benefit the people of the United States. Only those in Congress can avoid it. Democrats have already made their disdain for Trump expressly clear, but the time for grandstanding is over, and the time for protecting American institutions is in order.


 Kevin Sweitzer can be reached at