Trump, GOP should not 'steamroll Democrats' on every issue

Andrew Tisch, co-chairman of Loews
President-elect Donald Trump meets with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images

After years of relentless gridlock, Washington has more items on its to-do list than a handyman in Trump Tower!

But there is one priority that stands out above the rest: The American middle class demands that its most basic needs be addressed and quite frankly, it needs a raise.

The median family income has barely budged in the last 15 years. That message was delivered loud and clear in this election. That is why President-elect Donald Trump and the incoming Congress should focus relentlessly early next year on policies that can spur job and wage growth focused toward the middle class.

Start with infrastructure and tax reform. It's no secret our roads, bridges and tunnels are falling apart after decades of neglect, postponement of maintenance and under-investment. A simplification of our cumbersome and uncompetitive tax code could free up badly needed capital for infrastructure investment. Additional funds could come from the more than $2 trillion in profits that U.S. companies are currently holding overseas.

Next, look to support small businesses and entrepreneurs, who are the job engines of our economy. According to the Kauffman Foundation, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S. over the past three decades—about 1.5 million per year—were created by firms that were less than a year old.

Washington needs to focus, in particular on making it easier for small businesses to get loans and to break free from unnecessary regulatory burdens that force them to spend more time focused on compliance than finding better ways to serve their customers. It is needlessly onerous and expensive to start a business. Regulatory compliance is estimated to cost small businesses more than $10,000 per employee, 36 percent more than the cost to larger businesses, according to an SBA Office of Advocacy report published in 2010.

Finally, there is criminal justice reform. America's unconscionable over-incarceration, particularly of nonviolent offenders, which is creating a permanent underclass with no hope of good employment. It drains government budgets at every level, while consigning ex-prisoners to fewer employment opportunities, lower pay and less mobility for the rest of their lives.

It's naive to think Republicans and Democrats will agree on everything or even most things in a Trump administration. But there is an alternative to the no-holds-barred partisanship that has delivered nothing but gridlock and frustration to the American people.

President-elect Trump—who ran as the law and order candidate—could surprise people positively by taking up this issue. He'd likely score a quick legislative win as both the House and Senate have recently introduced reforms supported by both Democrats and Republicans intended to reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences and to strengthen prisoner workforce re-entry programs.

All of these policy areas have the virtue of having at least the possibility of bipartisan support, which could provide some early indications of intent for President-elect Trump.

With full Republican control of the White House and Congress, some Republicans will be tempted to try to steamroll Democrats on every issue. But for a cautionary tale of this brute force approach, President-elect Trump need only look at the experience of his predecessor.

Many Democrats would argue that President Obama—facing frequent Republican obstruction—had little choice but to take unilateral action. But politics is all about finding ways to work together, not just assigning blame when consensus is not reached.

The fact remains that large parts of President Obama's legacy could soon be reversed because they did not have bipartisan support. President Obama needed to work harder with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Speaker of the House John Boehner and current Speaker Paul Ryan to forge a consensus.

President-elect Trump should heed this lesson. It appears one soon-to-be governing partner, Senator McConnell, already has. Last week, McConnell said, "Frequently, new majorities think they will last forever. Nothing is forever in this country. We have an election every two years right on schedule. I don't think we should act like we'll be in the majority forever."

Leader McConnell appears to understand that when you get buy-in from the other side on a piece of legislation, they become invested in that bill's success and durable change becomes possible. From the passage of Social Security and Medicare to the most recent comprehensive tax reform in 1986 (which passed the Senate 97-3, an almost unthinkable margin today), the most consequential and long-lasting reforms are usually bipartisan.

If President Trump takes this inclusive approach, he will likely find ample room for cooperation.

It's naive to think Republicans and Democrats will agree on everything or even most things in a Trump administration. But there is an alternative to the no-holds-barred partisanship that has delivered nothing but gridlock and frustration to the American people. There are openings for cooperation on policies that can finally start to improve the job prospects and the incomes of the American middle class.

The electorate's expectations of both the Executive and Legislative branches is extremely low and voters have come to expect so little of our institutions that have served us so well for almost a quarter of a millennium. Wouldn't it be wonderful for President-elect Trump and our leaders in Congress to find common ground to serve the American people in a manner that earns their respect, not their scorn?

The Art of the Deal is the title of President-elect Trump's first book. It's all about making things happen. Trump's first days in office will determine whether the next edition of that book should be sold in the fiction or non-fiction section of the bookstore.

Commentary by Andrew Tisch, the co-chairman of Loews and a co-founder of No Labels, a national group of Democrats, Republicans and independents committed to new politics for problem-solving.

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