Senate Democrats said Jan. 3 they’re gearing up to oppose President-elect Donald Trump’s policy agenda if it’s built on calling for Medicare and Social Security privatization, non-mainstream judicial picks and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act without action on an acceptable replacement plan.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), in his first day as minority leader, said in his first speech of the 115th Congress that Democrats are willing to work with the Republican president on many items, such as a robust infrastructure investment plan and steps to hold China more accountable in the trade arena. But Schumer said he and other Democrats will fight Trump’s agenda if it does little to help the middle class and instead promotes policies long favored by the wealthy.
“If President-elect Trump lets the hard-right members of Congress and the Cabinet run the show, if he attempts to adopt their time-worn policies which benefit the elites, the special interests, corporate America—not the working man and woman—his presidency will not succeed,” Schumer said in remarks delivered shortly after the start of the new session of Congress. “Maybe not in the first 90 days, but certainly in the first two years. Unfortunately, that seems to be the path he is following throughout the transition.”
Schumer took over the leadership spot left open by the retirement of former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Republicans have promised to move out early to confirm many of Trump’s Cabinet picks and set the stage for action on his priorities after Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20.
Schumer said Democrats are awaiting details on many of Trump’s agenda items and Cabinet picks, and said the president-elect’s tweets are not substitutes for full-developed policies.
“On January 20, we won’t be in reality TV. We’ll be in reality,” he said. “We Democrats will make sure government works for every American in reality, not just on TV and on Twitter.”
Amid a series of swearing-in ceremonies Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) kept his own comments about this year’s legislative agenda to a minimum. But the Republican leader promised to detail more of his plans beginning Jan. 4.
Among other things, McConnell is expected to discuss plans to use early consideration of a fiscal year 2017 budget resolution to set the stage for the repeal the Affordable Care Act, and is said to likely begin moving some of Trump’s Cabinet picks as soon as the week of Jan. 9.
Schumer said Democrats have concerns about many of Trump’s early moves to chose the very rich to serve in the Cabinet and to pick up the agenda of the most conservative elements of the Republican Party after promising on the campaign trail to promote the interests of workers.
Schumer acknowledged that Democrats’ ability to push their own initiatives is very limited but said their “baseline posture” is that they won’t be a “rubber stamp” for congressional Republicans and the Trump administration.
Schumer said there are areas for cooperation but said Democrats expect to serve as an “accountability caucus” to ensure that Trump follows through on his campaign promises.
“We will hold President-elect Trump accountable to the values that truly make America great,” Schumer said. “But we’ll fight him tooth and nail when he appeals to the baser instincts that diminish America and its greatness, instincts that have too often plagued this country and his campaign.
“We’ll have benchmarks. Throughout the campaign, the president-elect said he could push GDP to 5 percent or 6 percent. He complained the real unemployment rate was too high and would bring it down. We’ll hold him accountable to that,” Schumer said. “What does he think he can achieve in a year or two, or four?”
Schumer highlighted some of the top areas of concern, from plans to privatize Medicare and Social Security to repealing the ACA. On the latter, Schumer said Democrats will insist that Republicans also have a plan to cover those dependent on the ACA for coverage.
“It is not acceptable to repeal the law, throw our health-care system into chaos, and then leave the hard work for another day,” Schumer said.
Schumer said Democrats are interested in a plan to promote more investment in infrastructure. But he said what Trump so far has discussed won’t get their support.
“A program of tax credits isn’t going to get the job done, no matter how large,” Schumer said. “We need significant, direct spending. How does the president-elect plan to get that done?”
Schumer also promised an early battle on a Supreme Court replacement if Trump doesn’t nominate a “mainstream” justice as President Barack Obama did when he tapped Merrick Garland to fill the spot left open by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. McConnell blocked any effort to hold a hearing on Garland’s nomination last year.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Schumer is a “worthy adversary” but also said there are many instances where he has worked productively with the new Democratic leader. Cornyn, McConnell’s top deputy, said after Schumer’s remarks that Republicans will be more inclined than Democrats were to seek bipartisan input on their agenda.
Cornyn said Republicans’ top priorities in the short term will be to tackle the Affordable Care Act, roll back Obama’s rulemakings and cement the Trump Cabinet into place.
But “if there is one great example, historic example, of why it’s a mistake to try to do things alone or without bipartisan support, it is the example of Obamacare,” said Cornyn, who said it passed when Democrats had 60 votes. “Now they are at 48.”
“It’s our obligation and duty to try to find areas we can agree on and to move consensus,” Cornyn said.
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