Trump order targets wide swath of public assistance programs

The Trump administration is seeking to completely revamp the country’s social safety net, targeting recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance.

Trump is doing so through a sweeping executive order that was quietly issued earlier this week – and that largely flew under the radar.

It calls on the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and other agencies across the federal government to craft new rules requiring that beneficiaries of a host of programs work or lose their benefits.

Trump argued with the order, which has been in the works since last year, that the programs have grown too large while failing to move needy people out of government help.

“Since its inception, the welfare system has grown into a large bureaucracy that might be susceptible to measuring success by how many people are enrolled in a program rather than by how many have moved from poverty into financial independence,” it states.

The order is directed at “any program that provides means-tested assistance or other assistance that provides benefits to people, households or families that have low incomes.”

Democrats have blasted the effort, arguing the order blends the issues of welfare and broader public assistance programs in a deliberate way they say is intended to lower support for popular initiatives.

“Welfare” has historically been used to describe cash assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Democrats and liberal activists say the Trump administration is seeking to expand the definition of welfare to mean food stamps, Medicaid and other programs as a way to demonize them.

“This executive order perpetuates false and racist stereotypes about certain groups supposedly taking advantage of government assistance,” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement reacting to the order.

President Trump “is trying to erect a smokescreen in the shape of Reagan’s ‘welfare queen’ so people don’t see he’s coming after the entire middle and working class,” said Rebecca Vallas, managing director of the Center for American Progress’s Poverty to Prosperity Program.

Welfare reform has long been a goal of GOP lawmakers, and there’s broad support in the Republican conference for changing the federal safety net to impose stricter work requirements and block grant state funding for programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

While noting that he hadn’t seen the specific text of the executive order, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he supports the concept.

“For able-bodied, single adults, I certainly favor work requirements,” Cole said.

With Republicans in total control of the government, conservatives have been hoping for a major legislative push to overhaul federal assistance programs.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) late last year said he wanted Republicans to work on entitlement reform, with a focus on promoting work and career-based education.

“We want to smooth the path from welfare to work, pull people out of poverty, pull people out of welfare,” Ryan said in December.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Institute, said the executive order is meant to signal support to congressional Republicans.

“[Administration officials] have been talking to Congress, and the executive order is designed to set the table for them,” Rector said. “Do what they can in the executive branch, and give support to similar efforts on the Hill.”

But a short legislative calendar and a slim Republican majority in the Senate mean the administration may be largely on its own.

Agencies are limited in what changes they can make to their programs, so comprehensive welfare reform may be off the table without major legislation.

Republicans have already acknowledged they won’t be able to cut spending on entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“I think it’s very tough to get this thing through the Senate when it requires 60 votes. I certainly don’t have any problem with the president taking initiative,” Cole said.

The executive order doesn’t set any new policy, but Center for American Progress’s Vallas said the order is important as a messaging document, and it shows that Trump is willing to act without Congress.

“This is more of President Trump not being content to wait for Congress to dismantle these programs. This is him wanting to take matters into his own hands,” Vallas said.

The order follows policy shifts already underway at various agencies.

Health and Human Services officials have encouraged states to pursue work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries. Arkansas, Indiana and Kentucky have already been granted such waivers, and several other states have waivers pending with the administration.

Earlier this year, the Agriculture Department sought input on “innovative ideas to promote work and self-sufficiency among able-bodied adults” participating in the food stamp program.

In Congress, House Republicans unveiled a provision in the 2018 farm bill to expand mandatory work requirements in the food stamp program. The broader legislation will be marked up later this month, but it faces a long uphill battle.

The administration’s effort could also face legal challenges. Medicaid advocates in Kentucky have already sued over the work requirements, and additional safety net changes could provoke even more lawsuits.

[The Hill]

Trump orders Postal Service review after blasting Amazon deal

After accusing Amazon for months of not paying its fair share of postage, President Trump has ordered a review of the US Postal Service’s finances via an executive order issued late Thursday night. The order calls for a task force to evaluate the operations and finances of the USPS. The order does not mention Amazon by name, but it seems clear that Trump is trying to back his claim that the USPS is losing “many billions of dollars a year” due to the financial arrangement with its biggest shipper of packages, or about $1.50 for every Amazon package it delivers.

Trump may very well be correct regarding the numbers, although his rage seems misplaced. Experts, and even Trump’s own advisers, have said that the enormous volume of packages shipped by Amazon have helped keep the Postal Service afloat. Rather, the long, slow decline in junk and first-class mail are the reasons for the USPS’s mounting financial losses. Trump’s executive order acknowledges this.

“A number of factors, including the steep decline in First-Class Mail volume, coupled with legal mandates that compel the USPS to incur substantial and inflexible costs, have resulted in a structural deficit,” the president says in the order. “The U.S.P.S. is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout.”

It’s unclear how quickly the task force will begin its review, but it has 120 days to respond to the president with a summary of its findings and recommendations. Trump created a similar commission last year to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election — a claim thoroughly debunked by election experts from both parties. The commission was dissolved in January.

Trump often screams “FAKE NEWS!” on Twitter after The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, publishes incriminating stories about Trump or his administration. Last week Trump calledThe Post “Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist,’” a claim he’s fond of repeating. And during his presidential campaign, Trump saidthat Amazon had a “huge anti-trust problem” and “is getting away with murder, tax-wise.” It all makes you wonder what Trump’s real angle is.

[The Verge]

 

Trump Signs Executive Order to Roll Back Clean Water Rule

President Trump’s newest executive orders target a water-protection rule and elevate an initiative on historically black colleges and universities into the White House.

Trump signed the executive orders in back-to-back signing ceremonies at the White House on Tuesday. The first seeks to undo the Waters of the United States Rule, an Obama administration regulation that sought to reinterpret the Clean Water Act to extend federal protections to smaller rivers and streams.

In a Roosevelt Room ceremony with farmers and lawmakers, Trump called the rule “one of the worst examples of federal regulation” and said “it has truly run amok.”

At issue: the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. Under the 2015 Obama rule, those waters could include, for example, anything within a 100-year floodplain or within 4,000 feet of a high-tide mark. “A few years ago, the EPA decided that ‘navigable waters’ can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land, or anyplace else that they decide — right? It was a massive power grab,” Trump said.

Trump’s plan of attack is similar to his earlier order aimed at a consumer-protection regulation called the Fiduciary Duty rule. Because the rule was finalized in 2015, the Trump administration will have to start the regulatory process from the beginning to remove it from the books. The executive order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do just that, asking them to reconsider whether federal jurisdiction extends to non-navigable streams.

But unlike the Fiduciary Duty Rule, which was scheduled to go into effect April 10, the Waters of the United States rule has already been blocked by a federal appeals court in Cincinnati. The executive order also asks the Justice Department to put that appeal on hold while the administration reconsiders the rule.

And it gives direct advice to agencies about how Trump would like to see the term “navigable waters” defined. In a 2005 Supreme Court decision, Justice Antonin Scalia defines them “only those relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water forming geographic features that are described in ordinary parlance as streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes.”

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, did not sound optimistic that the rule would survive.

“If this were an objective review, I think that would be fine,” he said. “If this is a review that the Trump administration has already decided what the outcomes going to be, that’s not good.”

A second executive order moves the federal initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, into the White House from the Department of Education, where it was housed under the Obama administration.

Trump’s executive order establishes a President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, but still leaves much of the budgeting and administration of the initiative in the Department of Education.

“With this executive order, we will make HBCUs a priority in the White House — an absolute priority,” Trump said. “A lot of people are going to be angry that they’re not a priority, but that’s O.K.”

Grambling State University Richard Gallot, one of 80 college presidents who met with Trump Monday, welcomed moving the HBCU initiative back to the White House. “It does makes sense,” he said. “When an agency receives something from the White House suggesting action on HBCUs it has a different tone than three layers down from the Department of Education.”

Since President Jimmy Carter in 1980, every president has signed an executive order reorganizing the initiative. But Trump said moving the initiative into the White House will make it “an absolute priority.”

The HBCU order comes the day after Trump hosted the presidents of historically black colleges at the White House — cramming 64 of them into the Oval Office for a meeting. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this many people in the Oval Office,” Trump said to laughter. “This could be a new record, forever.

(h/t USA Today)

Reality

According to Vox, there is a catch: Rolling back this rule won’t be easy to do. By law, Pruitt has to go through the formal federal rulemaking process and replace Obama’s regulation with his own version — and then defend it in court as legally superior. And, as Pruitt’s about to find out, figuring out which bodies of water deserve protection is a maddeningly complex task that could take years.