Federal Update: President Trump Outlines Priorities

March 2, 2017

President Donald Trump capped his first 40 days in office with a primetime address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, where he outlined a broad vision for addressing his priorities.

Despite a shaky start to the term, the Trump Administration is promising continued action on an agenda that includes increases in military and infrastructure spending, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, securing the border, and reforming the tax code.  With this focus on high level, mainly positive goals, the speech was seen as a reset for the new administration.

First Forty Days

The early focus of the Administration has been on issues that are seemingly fairly routine – Cabinet nominations and executive actions. However, the President’s nominees, which include many with little or no government experience and substantial success in the private sector, have been controversial with questions of experience, approach and conflicts of interest. Senate votes have been close, often along party lines, and only in recent days has the Cabinet begun to fill out. Beyond his Cabinet, the President announced the nomination of Neil Gorsuch (JD’91) to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. The President has also issued many executive orders across an array of topics. Among the most concerning was an order banning travel to the US for those from seven Muslim-majority states and entry for refugees; after substantial backlash from higher education, business and the wider public and lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of this order, it is on hold in the courts, although a new order is expected in the coming days. 

The Administration has also begun consultations with Congress on two of the President’s signature initiatives – repeal and replacement of the ACA and comprehensive tax reform, although to date he has provided few details.  Congressional Republicans seem committed to move on both of these initiatives through privileged budget legislation that may limit their scope but ensure the bills can pass by simple majority votes in both Chambers. However, uniting the Republican majority in either area is proving difficult as members struggle with policy goals, fiscal impacts and local politics. 

In recent days, details have begun to emerge on the Administration’s proposed budget outline.  The President has been clear that he will call for immediate supplemental funding of the Defense Department, and now there are indications his FY18 budget proposal will increase security spending by $54 billion paid for directly by cuts in non-security funding.  While the plan itself has not yet been released (it is expected mid-March) or considered by a Congress that has the ultimate say, this would amount to a more than 10% cut in non-Defense spending.  Reports suggest the cuts may be targeted at foreign assistance programs, the EPA and smaller agencies like the NEH, NEA and AmeriCorps, although any such plan would undoubtedly require broader cuts throughout government, including in research and education. Already reaction on the Hill has been negative with members from both parties rejecting this proposed level of cuts. 

President Trump’s Speech to Congress

During Tuesday’s address (full remarks available here), President Trump touted his work so far and attempted to pivot from an up-and-down first month to a more hopeful, issues-focused approach, declaring “the time for small thinking is over; the time for trivial fights is behind us.”  These priority agenda items closely follow the goals he laid out on the campaign trail last year: regulatory reform; repeal of the ACA; military and infrastructure buildup; expanding school choice; law and order; and comprehensive tax reform. 

Our Advocacy

Our Federal Relations team is actively engaged with Members of both parties in both chambers and is working to further University priorities through direct advocacy on Capitol Hill and in concert with DC-based coalitions and associations of other universities.  In addition to these regular efforts, President Faust this week made her second trip in 2017 to Washington, and has met with key Republicans and Democrats, including the leadership, alumni, appropriators and those on the tax-writing committees, to discuss the critical importance of the federal-university partnership and investments in research, student aid, and the humanities as well as incentives for charitable giving, tax policy and the need to support students who may feel vulnerable in the face of new immigration policies. As the new Administration and Congress continue to pursue their agenda, we will remain closely engaged in support of the University’s core mission and values.

As always, please feel free to reach out to Kevin Casey (Kevin_Casey@harvard.edu), Suzanne Day (Suzanne_Day@harvard.edu), or Jon Groteboer (Jon_Groteboer@harvard.edu) on Harvard’s federal team with any thoughts or questions.