The recent passage of the omnibus spending bill did serious damage to Donald Trump’s presidency. Politically, it harmed his standing with at least half of his base. Thankfully, political crises present new opportunities to make up for past mistakes. And we are still far enough out from the November midterms that disappointments can be forgotten.
Yet the fact is the 2018 midterm will be the election that determines not only how much of Trump’s agenda makes it through Congress, but also whether or not the president is likely to be impeached. So unless Trump wants to replicate the disastrous omnibus spending bill in September (when the government will need another round of spending), he should take account of his recent mistake and learn from it. He should take serious constitutional action.
Beyond a Balanced Budget Amendment
One way he might do that is through a revival of former President Ronald Reagan’s “taxpayer bill of rights.” Such a revival could become an interesting centerpiece of Trump’s political efforts going forward.
Recently, the White House floated the idea that the president wanted Congress to adopt a balanced budget amendment. But perhaps this doesn’t go far enough? Perhaps Trump, in order to regain the full support of his base, should take more drastic steps?
Steven F. Hayward has argued in his history of the Reagan presidency, The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution: 1980-1989, that the 40th president understood all of his great victories might just as easily be undone by his successors if they were not codified in what he called a “taxpayer bill of rights.” Reagan favored a balanced-budget amendment, a line-item veto, a two-thirds vote requirement for any tax increase in Congress, a federal spending cap, and a constitutional ban on wage-and-price controls.
Every single one of these issues is just as relevant today as they were in the 1980s. Further, the country may be ripe for the kind of drastic reform that Reagan could only dream of during the prosperous 1980s. More to the point, Trump should consider: just as he undid much of what President Obama “accomplished” by “pen and phone” a successor might undo much of his agenda in a similar fashion.
Cement the Realignment
While it is true the damage to the debt has already been done with the most recent spending bill, strenuously advocating a Reagan-style “taxpayer bill of rights” today might do more to drain the swamp in the long-term than anything that Trump has managed to accomplish so far. The “taxpayer bill of rights” also would force his successors, regardless of party or disposition, to hew closely to the standard set by President Trump. The passage of even a few points in the “taxpayer bill of rights” could effectively terminate the Left’s grip on the future, and codify thepolitical realignment that Trump began in 2016.
Think about it: President Trump has governed as the “most conservative” president since Reagan. According to the Heritage Foundation, Trump has effectively accomplished two-thirds of his agenda within the first year of his administration (the omnibus debacle notwithstanding). Trump’s successes have included an unprecedented rollback of the regulatory state; massive foreign policy victories; the embrace of fair and reciprocal trade; the selection of young, constitutionalist judges to the federal bench; and a big, beautiful tax cut. All of these things were badly needed. But, every one of these achievements can—and most assuredly will—be undone by Trump’s successors, just as Reagan’s great victories were ultimately eroded with the passage of time.
The late historian Thomas B. Silver argued Reagan’s presidency failed precisely because he failed to pass the “taxpayer bill of rights”:
Judged by the highest goal he set for himself, Reagan was not successful. It cannot be said that Reagan, in any fundamental way, dismantled—or even scaled back—the administrative state created by FDR.
Hayward contends that had Reagan pushed for the “taxpayer bill of rights” in his first term, rather than toward the end of his second, the country would have been a very different place today. He is likely right.
President Trump has enjoyed great policy victories since taking office. But, these policy outcomes are ephemeral. Plus, Trump is not a technocrat; he is a disruptor.
If the populist revolution is to last longer than Trump’s first term, he cannot replicate Reagan’s mistakes. The omnibus bill is a wake-up call to the president to continue being the bold leader he campaigned to be. Passing a “taxpayer bill of rights” has the potential to ensure that no American leader will ever again forget about the hard-working, American middle-class. Trump’s revolution will be complete only under these conditions.
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