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VOL. 40 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 4, 2016

How a Trump win might affect Tennessee

By Sam Stockard

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s budget plan would increase the national debt by $5.3 trillion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget.

-- Ap Photo/Evan Vucci

Radical change may be the cry of Donald Trump supporters, but questions loom large over a potential presidency for the Republican nominee.

His policies are largely undefined, and his relationship with the Republican Party is tenuous at best. His slogan is “Make America Great Again,” but he’s been unclear how he will achieve such a goal. And whether Republicans get on board with a Trump administration is a mystery, too.

“It’s pretty hard to really gauge on a lot of issues what will happen with Trump because you don’t necessarily know what he really means he’s going to do and whether or not he’ll really do it. Then, you don’t know whether he can get it through Congress,” says Kent Syler, Middle Tennessee State University political scientist who served as chief of staff for former Democratic Congressman Bart Gordon.

For instance, would a Trump administration try to – as he has promised – round up millions of undocumented immigrants across the nation and ship them back to their home countries, or will he work toward passage of legislation creating a path to citizenship?

Sometimes he says yes and sometimes he says no, Syler points out.

On international trade, Trump does consistently say he will renegotiate U.S. trade deals and abolish or overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Taking effect in 1994, NAFTA opened free trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico, in part an effort to develop manufacturing in Mexico.

But while the program draws blame for sending thousands of U.S. jobs south of the border, Tennessee has become a mecca for foreign investment, particularly from Japan, Korea and Germany, serving as a key location for the auto industry.

Syler says it’s difficult to figure out how renegotiation of trade pacts would affect workers and families in Tennessee. Passing such measures in Congress would likely prove “pretty difficult,” Syler adds.

The Republican nominee’s personality also turns a monkey wrench on otherwise conventional thought.

In light of Trump’s scorched-earth moves to campaign without Republican help – as GOP leaders criticized his candidacy and called for him to step down – it’s hard to know whether he can get things done in Washington, D.C.

“It may well be that nothing would change. It might even double down on itself in terms of the gridlock,” says Pat Nolan, a Nashville political commentator.

If Trump were to win the presidency Nov. 8 and Republicans maintain control of the House and Senate, Nolan questions how well he would work with House Speaker Paul Ryan, an outspoken critic, and with Senate Speaker Mitch McConnell.

Under the same party banner, most onlookers would say they can unite on at least some part of a common agenda, Nolan says.

But with Trump saying “he’s now unfettered from having to run as a Republican, that he can run the campaign as he wants to, that’s kind of hard to figure out,” Nolan explains.

A third of U.S. senators backed completely away from Trump, and numerous governors nationwide, including Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, called for Trump to step aside and let Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, his vice presidential candidate, take the nomination.

Much of that has fallen into the dust bin of campaign history in the wake of the FBI’s decision to investigate more emails related to Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State.

Still, such an attitude could come back to haunt Trump when it comes to nominating a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Nolan adds. Potential Trump nominees could be OK with Republican leaders, but some could balk at them simply because they come from Trump.

“Because Republicans have gotten themselves into this civil war or just because Republicans still control all those things in Washington, including the White House (if Trump wins), it’s not clear to me how well they’ll work together,” Nolan says.

At one point, Trump talked about initiating some sort of squad to round up illegal immigrants. Nolan says he has “fuzzed up” his intentions in the last month or so, possibly for political palatability. Yet he wants to make immigration more difficult, especially in regard to refugees trying to enter the country, calling it “extreme vetting,” Nolan points out.

“If it’s rule-making, he can do it through the federal agencies, and he may have a chance to do that,” Nolan adds. “If it takes legislative action, I expect we’ll have a knockdown, drag-out fight in Congress about what’s the best and right thing to do.”

Legislative view

State Rep. Glen Casada, chairman of the House Republican Majority Caucus, says a Trump presidency would be a polar opposite of a Hillary Clinton Administration.

“I do see him lessening government regulations and tightening the borders. Those are two positive signs,” Casada adds.

The Franklin Republican, who is positioning himself for the House Majority leadership position, doesn’t consider Trump to be a “budget hawk,” which concerns him because of the “long-term ramifications” for budget growth.

In fact, a report from the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget shows Trump’s budget plans would make the national debt increase by $5.3 trillion over a decade, much higher than Clinton’s proposals would, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

Clinton is proposing tax increases on wealthy households and businesses to cover $1.65 trillion in increased spending over 10 years, mainly for college education, infrastructure and paid family leave, according to the article, while Trump is proposing to cut spending by $1.2 trillion but trim revenue by $5.8 trillion through tax reductions and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. His plans also include increased federal borrowing.

The Trump campaign contends the study doesn’t factor in his plans to improve the economy by cutting regulation and restructuring NAFTA and other trade agreements, the article states.

In line with those projections, state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh says a Trump presidency could prove detrimental to Tennessee as its economy rebuilds from the stagnation of 2008-09, especially amid Democratic efforts to stabilize health care insurance markets in the early years of the Affordable Care Act.

“I know people are frustrated and they want ‘change,’ things like that, but if Mr. Trump were elected, it appears to me the uncertainty of having no plan, having no agenda, really, would be a very unfortunate thing for Tennessee and the country as a whole,” says Fitzhugh, a Ripley Democrat and House Democratic Minority Caucus leader.

That type of suspicion could stop economic recovery, and his plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act could undermine efforts to provide health care insurance to more Tennesseans, says Fitzhugh, a longtime advocate for Medicaid expansion and Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee, a proposal to catch about 290,000 in a gap between TennCare and Obamacare.

Fitzhugh says the biggest problem with Trump’s hope to kill the Affordable Care Act is the lack of a “solution” to replace it. He concedes the law has problems, pointing toward marketplace premium increases allowed by the Department of Commerce and Insurance and the subsequent pullout of BlueCross BlueShield Tennessee from individual marketplace plans for 2017.

“They need to be worked through and changed. But the bottom line to the positive is we’ve got a lot more people that have health insurance that are not dependent on the public to support them through their own health insurance,” Fitzhugh explains.

He points out Obamacare was originally a Republican plan created by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, and he adds he believes it can work if the principles of insurance are allowed to take over.

On the other hand, Casada, an opponent of Obamacare and all its trappings, hopes a Trump presidency would entertain the concept of sending the states block grants of Medicaid money and letting them design their own health care programs.

“I think that will be on the table. It’s a total paradigm change for the federal government. I think we could do it and do it well,” he says.

Though the federal government already provides funds for TennCare, Casada says that Medicaid money comes with “a lot of strings,” or mandates. It is unclear whether such block grants would be allowed without states being required to follow federal rules.

Tennessee is seeking approval from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services for a 3-Star Healthy plan, which would provide a health-care option initially for people suffering mental health problems and then for the rest of the population in the coverage gap between TennCare and Obamacare.

Immigration issue

Just as many questions remain about health care insurance in Tennessee, undocumented immigrants are caught in the great unknown.

Fitzhugh says a Trump presidency would be “terrible” for the immigrant population, many of whom fear being rounded up and bused out of the United States.

The House Democratic leader says he knows people who have been trying to get their citizenship for years, worked hard to survive and paid taxes. He describes a man who holds a job as a head chef who recently spoke with him in his office.

“He’s trying to do the right thing, but he’s an immigrant who doesn’t have the proper documentation, so … apparently the plan is to send that immigration force and take him out of the country,” Fitzhugh says.

“I just think it would be a problem and to think we can stop it [more immigration] by building a wall is just a little elementary.”

Trump has espoused construction of a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico several times during the campaign, raising the ire of the Hispanic population and Mexicans themselves. In fact, one of the key points of NAFTA was to create a manufacturing base in Mexico to create more jobs there.

While American companies have moved thousands of jobs there, millions of Hispanic immigrants have come here over the last 30 years because employers are offering them jobs, Fitzhugh points out

“We have to remember what that Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor’s all about,” he says.

Casada, though, argues the idea of an immigration force rounding up immigrants and shipping them out is illogical. He says he believes Trump would put “some kind of system in place” to account for undocumented immigrants in an effort to weed out terrorists and other bad actors.

“But logistically and financially, I don’t see how we can afford to round up 12 million illegals and take them back to wherever. It can’t be done,” he adds.

Fitzhugh also says Trump’s economic proposals don’t hold up, especially when it comes to foreign trade, because he has a history of using foreign labor.

“He’s outsourced everything. His clothing products are made in China, and he talks about how he’s gonna bring back jobs?” Fitzhugh says, adding Trump put his name on a building he doesn’t own, just for marketing purposes.

Fitzhugh contends Trump doesn’t have a “core belief” in providing jobs and offering the opportunity for people who’ve been left behind to make a living, though he seems willing to boost the “super-rich” and not pay taxes.

As a result of that philosophy, people on the fringes of society would be left behind under a Trump presidency, Fitzhugh says.

Congressional outlook

Congressman Scott DesJarlais, the first member of the Tennessee delegation to come out in support of Trump, is not backing away from endorsing the real estate mogul, despite women’s allegations of sexual misconduct.

The South Pittsburg Republican points out Trump will carry Tennessee on Nov. 8, as has been expected since the primary early in 2016.

“I don’t think there’s any question a Trump administration would have a much more favorable view of Tennessee than that of a Clinton Administration,” he says via email.

“That said, if government performs as it should, Tennessee should receive its fair share and receive equal consideration for programmatic funding regardless of whichever party is in power.”

“The mere fact that we even discuss the impact that election choices will have on how our state is treated highlights the anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction that our citizens have with the political process. That is why they are voicing their desire for independent leadership and not elitist establishment insiders,” he says.

Congressman Jim Cooper, however, says a Trump presidency’s impact on Tennessee is “a big unknown.”

“He has been very sketchy in his policy analysis and he’s had a very short list of advisers,” says Cooper, a Nashville Democrat considered a budget conservative.

Cooper points out U.S. Sen. Bob Corker “flirted” with being a foreign policy adviser for Trump as the Republican sought to bolster his expertise. Health care advisers are lacking, though, Cooper says.

Considering Trump and the Republican Party are fighting a “civil war” of sorts, Trump as president might have trouble recruiting Republicans to fill administration slots, Cooper adds. He notes a number of House colleagues were “burned” by endorsing Trump, then changing their minds about the nominee.

“I can’t ever recall a more dangerous candidacy to endorse. Because if you tie your faith to what he’s gonna say in his next Twitter war, you don’t know if he’s going to be taking on Miss Venezuela or the Gold Star parents of the soldier who died in Iraq or John McCain. It’s kind of amazing,” Cooper says.

On the health care front, Cooper says Trump will have a hard time turning back the Affordable Care Act because several measures it contains are popular, even with Republicans, including required coverage of pre-existing conditions and the provision allowing children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

“Is he going to charge women more for health insurance?” Cooper asks. “These are the fundamental elements of Obamacare and he’s not going to do any of those things. In fact, he’s such a rookie student of policy it’ll probably take him two years to figure out what he wanted to do.”

The fallout

Considering women make up 53 percent of the nation’s electorate, a Trump victory could be perceived as a loss for women, Nolan says.

Trump is dogged by an interview in which he appeared to condone sexual assault along with accusations by several women he groped them. He called the interview “locker room talk” and denied the women’s allegations, saying they were conjured by the Clinton camp.

Tennessee U.S. Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn both are backing Trump, even amid the women’s accusations, saying they’ll take a Trump presidency over Clinton any day. Blackburn spoke at Republican National Convention, backing Trump at every turn.

But even though many Republicans have turned their backs on the nominee, he has gained a foothold in the polls in the last two weeks, especially with the FBI’s investigation of Clinton emails clinging to her.

In Tennessee, voters went to the polls in record numbers during early voting, many breathing a sigh of relief to put the deed behind them.

“Either way it turns out, I think the country is still going to be angry and unhappy,” Nolan says. “I think, obviously, if Trump wins, this was an election that the voters decided was much more about change than about continuing what’s happened the last eight years.”

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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