The First 100 Days

The presidential transition period is over – President-elect Trump is now President Trump, and media attention turns toward what he might accomplish in his first 100 days in office.

The 100-day benchmark is a legacy of the Great Depression and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term, when he coined the phrase in connection with the 100-day session of Congress that began in March, rather than as a reference to his own first 100 days as president. Regardless, it has come to be the barometer of a new president’s effectiveness during a brief honeymoon with Congress when his power is perceived to be strongest. Whether President Trump will get anything resembling a honeymoon with Democrats in Congress is debatable, but he and his team have promised quick action on several of their priorities.

The Trump White House has focused on measures the administration argues show the president is keeping true to his populist promises to protect American jobs and grow the economy. One of these promises was to pull the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he did on his third full day in office. The TPP had been supported by the Obama administration but was unlikely to get passed by the Senate. Thus, Trump’s action was more symbolic than substantive. However, because the TPP is an area of disagreement over free trade with establishment Republicans, Trump’s team believes it is an important way of showing he is willing to buck party leaders in order to keep faith with his supporters. This perceived need to show that he will do things his way is unnerving Republican leaders who are hoping to have a unified message on most big issues.

Congressional Republicans hope to address some of those concerns early. On January 26, House Republicans will hold their annual issues retreat in Philadelphia; both President Trump and Vice President Pence will make appearances. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have met recently to discuss issues such as tax reform, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), infrastructure investment, border security, and rolling back federal regulations. These meetings are all opportunities to identify areas of agreement, bridge key differences, and settle on legislative strategy to which both the White House and Congressional Republicans can adhere. Trump has also begun to reach out to the Congressional leadership on a bipartisan basis, and had his first meeting with leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties in the White House.

Among the top priorities for the White House and Congressional Republicans is repealing the ACA, and House GOP leaders have already laid the groundwork for its repeal using budget reconciliation, a process that allows the bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority, rather than having to reach the 60-vote threshold most bills need for Senate passage. Without the possibility of a Senate Democratic filibuster, repeal is all but assured.

But what remains unclear is what replaces the ACA, which may push its repeal into February and could delay some of Trump’s other legislative priorities, including a tax cut bill and creation of a robust infrastructure program that are both unlikely to clear both houses of Congress and reach the legislative finish line by May.

Tax reform will be delayed because the committees responsible for developing and debating the reform bill – namely, Senate Finance and House Ways and Means – are the same ones working on finding a suitable replacement for the health care law (or a temporary bridge ensuring continued coverage). Trump’s infrastructure ideas rely on tax incentives, the value of which will be affected by tax rate changes brought about in tax reform. But without agreement on a revenue source, any program will run on borrowed money, thereby increasing the deficit and national debt – a big no-no for conservative deficit hawks.

Clearly, using his presidential powers to issue executive orders and overturn previous Obama executive orders will be a major element of President Trump’s activity during his first 100 days. Apart from those actions, and repeal of the healthcare law, major legislative victories on other administration top priorities during the first 100 days will be very challenging.

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