President-Elect Donald Trump has high energy and a Twitter account with 17.8 million followers. But even with a Republican Congress behind him when he takes office next month, he will not have a cakewalk enacting an ambitious agenda.
Here is a look at some of Trump’s biggest agenda items, laid out in his “Contract with the American Voter,” and how they might fare in his first year in office:
Item: Changing trade policy.
Trump’s proposal: Kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with 11 other countries that President Obama negotiated, renegotiate other, more advantageous trade agreements for the United States, and go after China’s economic bad acting.
The prospects: The easiest part of the agenda is to kill the TPP. Done. It died with Trump’s election. After that, it gets harder. Trump has the authority to revamp the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other pacts. The authority is built into the agreements, themselves.
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But negotiations have to have willing partners. And even though Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he is open to renegotiating NAFTA, it is unlikely Canada or Mexico would share Trump’s goals in any redo. Trump could withdraw from the agreements, but he would face fierce opposition from NAFTA supporters, including many in his own party. And U.S. companies hurt by the move would be sure to complain loudly.
Trump also has wide latitude in confronting China. He could take steps he promised in a speech in June, including labeling the country a currency manipulator and aggressively pursuing violations with claims in the World Trade Organization. But China almost certainly would fight back. That could hurt some U.S. exporters, and American consumers might see higher prices on Chinese imports.
Item: Rebuilding America.
Trump’s proposal: Trump has talked about spending as much as $1 trillion building roads, bridges, airports, and other infrastructure. That dwarfed even what Democrat Hillary Clinton had proposed.
The prospects: Public works spending might be Trump’s best hope for a bipartisan success. Democrats tend to like infrastructure spending and some GOP members of Congress who opposed President Obama’s massive stimulus spending plan in 2009 likely will back a program offered by a fellow Republican. But Trump will face opposition from budget hawks who believe massive infrastructure campaigns are riddled with waste and have dubious economic benefits. Then there’s the price tag: Coming up with the money will be no small task for a country approaching $20 trillion in debt.
Item: Cutting taxes.
Trump’s proposal: Simplify the tax code and cut rates to lay the foundation for 4 percent economic growth. Under Trump’s plan, the current seven tax brackets would be shrunk to three, and a middle-class family with two children would see a 35 percent tax cut. Trump also wants to slash the highest-in-the-developed-world corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent.
The prospects: Nothing unifies Republicans of varying stripes more surely than a broad-based tax cut, but most Democrats will strenuously resist any reduced revenue. The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation found during the campaign that Trump’s tax plan would save taxpayers more than any other presidential candidate. But even accounting for increased economic activity, the organization calculated in September that Trump’s revised plan would reduce revenue by between $2.9 trillion and $3.9 trillion over a decade.
Many analysts believe that tax simplification has economic benefits, but a horde of entrenched interests will fight those efforts. Complexity benefits powerful industries and individual companies that will not want to lose those advantages. Getting a comprehensive tax reform plan through both houses of Congress will test Trump’s reputation as a master negotiator and likely also will require some buy-in from Democrats.
Item: Repealing Obamacare.
Trump’s proposal: Repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a market-based reform that keeps some of the current law’s protections and do so with no gap in coverage.
The prospects: The Affordable Care Act has never been popular. Repealing it will be the easy part. Much of the law passed through a process known as “budget reconciliation” that requires only 51 Senate votes. Republicans actually managed to accomplish this at the end of last year, but Obama vetoed it.
The hard part rests with what comes next. Republicans have not unified around a replacement. What’s more, some experts believe reconciliation cannot be used to get rid of all aspects of the law. Provisions like costly mandates requiring insurance companies to cover various procedures may need a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senates, and the Republicans will have only 52 votes.
Congressional leaders have sketched out a plan to repeal the law early next year but delay it from taking effect for two or three years. That would give lawmakers time to craft an alternative. The challenge will be how to cover people who got insurance under Obamacare — so that no one loses coverage — and do so in a way that costs less.
Item: Reversing course on immigration.
Trump’s proposal: Step up enforcement of existing immigration law, cancel executive actions undertaken by Obama to bypass Congress, and build a border wall that Mexico pays for.
The prospects: Nothing was more synonymous with Trump’s stunning campaign than his immigration proposals and chants of “Build That Wall!” at his rallies. Trump will have a vast array of tools to change immigration enforcement. He can cancel Obama’s executive orders as easily as Obama signed them. He can withhold funds from “sanctuary” jurisdictions that thwart immigration enforcement, and he can change “catch-and-release” policies that border patrol officers complain tie their hands.
The wall will be harder. Whether it’s a 1,000-mile wall or a combination of wall and fencing as Trump suggested in a “60 Minutes” interview following the election, it will require Congress to provide funding. Democrats can be expected to be unified in their opposition to Trump’s signature proposal. As for getting Mexico to pay, Trump toyed with various ideas on the campaign trail, including threatening to block funds wired home by Mexicans living in the United States. But Mexican officials have vehemently opposed Trump on the issue, and that opposition is not likely to soften.