President Donald Trump got something of a late start on Friday after an inaugural parade ran late and left marchers trudging past empty bleachers in the rain and dark. But on his way to a trio of inaugural balls, Trump took the time to authorize a flurry of actions signaling his new administration’s intention to shake up Washington.
From a blanket instruction that all federal agencies should immediately suspend any pending rules or regulations to a vaguely worded executive order instructing those same agencies to relieve the “burden” imposed on citizens and businesses by the Affordable Care Act, Trump’s early moves reflected the breadth and depth of his plan to remake the country in a new image.
The White House website was completely overhauled, virtually erasing the legacy of Trump’s predecessor, former president Barack Obama. Gone were plans to protect the environment and provide assistance to undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, replaced by promises of increased fossil fuel extraction and border walls.
In what many viewed as a rather odd choice, the first clearly stated change in policy from the new administration was the shelving of a plan to lower insurance premiums for low-income homeowners who hold Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgages. The insurance premiums were increased during the housing crisis to reflect the increased risk of borrowers defaulting on mortgage loans, which cost taxpayers $1.7 billion during the Great Recession.
With improvements in the economy and a strengthening housing market, the Obama administration had determined that it was time to lower premiums again -- a move that would have saved borrowers roughly $500 per year. The plan was opposed by Republicans, who warned that it could put taxpayers on the hook for a bailout in the event of another housing market crash. On Friday, the Trump administration announced that the premium reduction, set to take effect later this month, had been suspended indefinitely.
Also Friday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus issued a memo to all federal agencies placing a freeze on new regulatory actions “to ensure that the President's appointees or designees have the opportunity to review any new or pending regulations.”
The move, a common practice for incoming administrations of both parties, instructs agencies to refrain from publishing new rules, and in the case of regulatory actions that have been announced but have not yet taken effect, it instructs agencies to delay their implementation where possible. The memo makes exceptions for emergency measures and rules that have to be completed by statutory deadlines.
But it was Trump’s executive order on Obamacare that garnered the most attention Friday night, primarily because it was unclear exactly what its impact would be. The order stated that it is the policy of the new administration to seek repeal of the law, but said that in the interim it would look to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” associated with it.
To that end, Trump ordered all federal agencies to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.”
The broad language of the order suggested that Trump might require federal agencies charged with enforcing elements of the ACA, like the individual mandate requiring every US resident to have a health insurance policy, to stop enforcing them. If that were to happen, experts warned, it could have dire and almost immediate effects on the market for individual health insurance policies, with younger, healthier patients abandoning their coverage, and health insurers reconsidering whether or not to offer policies to a population that has suddenly become older, sicker, and more expensive to cover.
While Trump did not issue a large number of orders Friday night, there were clear signals that much more is coming. Almost within minutes of Trump taking the oath of office, the official White House website was wiped clean of any trace of former President Obama’s policies and populated with many of Trump’s key policy objectives.
The new 45th president “believes the United States has incredible potential and will go on to exceed anything that it has achieved in the past,” the website declared. “His campaign slogan was Make America Great Again, and that is exactly what he intends to do.
The new Trump White House site outlined a series of hardline stands on law enforcement, defense, foreign policy, and trade; renewed Trump’s promises to grow the economy through corporate and individual tax cuts and unleash energy production and “clean coal” technology. Trump pledged to create 25 million new jobs in the coming decade.
The new administration vowed to rescind Obama’s Climate Action Plan aimed at combating global warming while pulling the plug on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and renegotiate the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico.
The Trump White House reiterated its pledge to greatly build up the military, wipe out ISIS and other terrorist groups, increase cyber-security capabilities, build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, develop a “state of the art missile defense system” against possible attacks by North Korea and Iran, and deport undocumented immigrants who have committed violent crimes.
"He is dedicated to enforcing our border laws, ending sanctuary cities, and stemming the tide of lawlessness associated with illegal immigration," the White House website declared.
And in further describing Trump’s foreign policy ambition, the site reads that "In pursuing a foreign policy based on American interests, we will embrace diplomacy. The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies."
Oddly, though, the website is silent about the health care law and Trump’s pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Eviscerating President Obama’s signature health insurance program was a central issue in Trump’s campaign, and he and GOP congressional leaders currently are brainstorming ways to simultaneously repeal key portions of Obamacare and replace them with a more market-oriented system.
At the same time, Trump aides yanked a climate change section off the website and declined to replace it except for a fleeting mention of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, a series of efforts to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has yet to provide any definitive word on whether the U.S. will continue to abide by the international global warming agreement reached in Paris a year ago. Nor has he disavowed previous assertions that climate change was a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese, although several of his cabinet nominees have acknowledged that climate change is partially man-made and a threat to the globe.