Opinion: A U.S. agenda for the new year
President Donald Trump began the new year with characteristic bombast, blaming others for perceived failures, taking credit for nonachievements or those accomplished despite him, and dispensing misinformation like candy on Halloween. In his first Cabinet meeting, the president riffed for an hour and a half on his petty grievances rather than do the business of setting the agenda for the year with his appointees, several of whom are in an acting position because their predecessors resigned or were pushed out the door.
Seeing as the president seems unable to come up with a plan to actually govern in 2019, here are a couple of items on my wish list — a list that reasonable conservatives and some liberals might even be able to agree on.
Let’s start with infrastructure. It seems like eons ago when the president stood in the lobby of Trump Tower to announce his “$1 trillion” infrastructure plan, but Trump’s controversial comments on the deadly alt-right protests in Charlottesville, Va., the previous weekend eclipsed the Aug. 15, 2017, announcement. In 2018, Trump released an even bigger plan, $1.5 trillion, but to date, not much has been accomplished. With Democrats in control of the House, infrastructure will gain traction, but the trick will be doing something that makes sense, doesn’t bust the budget and largely pays for itself.
Democrats would like to roll back the Trump tax cuts to pay for some of the needed upgrades to infrastructure, but it would make more sense to increase the federal gas tax to raise revenue for roads and bridges. Republicans never want to raise taxes, but taxing fuel is essentially a user fee, with those who use highways the most paying for that use. Right now, the federal fuel charge is 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel and 18.4 cents for gasoline, and it hasn’t been raised in more than 20 years. A few cents more would raise significant funds, but those funds should be used directly to pay for highways and bridges, not spent on mass transit as some Democrats would like. Gas prices remain historically low, so there is no better time to bump up the fuel tax.
Immigration is another area where there is possibility of movement if the president would just tone down his rhetoric and Democrats would accept modest changes because a sweeping overhaul is not possible. President Trump says he wants to secure the border, but illegal immigration is falling, not rising, and has been for a decade. The only area that has seen a significant increase is the number of families and unaccompanied minors who are fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries, mostly from Central America. These are not traditional immigrants but asylum-seekers. Whether the president likes it or not, current law only allows those seeking asylum to apply once they are on U.S. soil — and the courts have so far ruled that the administration can’t change the rules without going to Congress.
Providing asylum to those fleeing persecution is an important value to most Americans, but it makes little sense to insist that people show up at our borders if they want to claim asylum. The system was simply not meant to deal with the more than 150,000 families and unaccompanied children who came last year alone. Congress should look to modify current law to make the asylum procedure more manageable and to ensure that those who have legitimate claims can seek protection while those with more tenuous ones don’t bog down the system.
But the easiest fix to our immigration problems would be resolving the status of those who were brought here illegally as children, the so-called DACA population. They deserve to be granted the legal right to remain in the U.S., as long as they have committed no crimes, have paid taxes and are gainfully employed or in school. No one, not even President Trump, wants to deport these young people, so he should forget the right-wing talk show screamers and work with Congress to protect them.
If the president could stop getting his advice from Fox News, he might actually get something done this year. Who knows? He might actually enjoy what it feels like to have real accomplishments to tout, as opposed to fantasizing about walls and making government grind to a halt.
— Linda Chavez is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.