December 10, 2018

8 great bipartisan goals for Donald Trump

We are all witnesses to the inauguration of our 45th president. He wasn’t my first choice (for that matter, he was safely well outside of my “top 10”). In the Republican primary, I voted for John Kasich. When Donald Trump became the nominee, I opted to support Hillary Clinton because she seemed the opposite of Trump’s lack of seriousness, inadequate knowledge of history and policy, and simplistic conclusions about complex issues, all seemingly without introspection or retrospection. 

But here we are, contemplating the unknowns that such an unconventional — and so far, unsettling — administration portends. While many are focusing on Trump’s daily tweets and outrageous behaviors, and they seem to be legion, we instead should put this election behind us and work on the serious business of working together. Perhaps by being so unconventional, Trump can be the agent for real “out-of-the-box” change. In short, It’s time to get to work.

We all attest to want middle-class economic relief, a better health plan, more employment, tax reform, compassionate immigration policy and a stable world. Here is some advice to the new president in areas where bipartisanship might prevail, where Republicans and Democrats can work together to move the country forward. 

Immigration reform  

Mr. Trump, I think you know that a  wall between the United States and Mexico is unrealistic and ludicrously costly, but there are more sensible ways to secure our borders and reform our immigration system. Politicians from both parties support vigilantly protecting our borders and enhancing background checks. So go ahead and build a metaphorical wall — but, when it comes to undocumented people already living in this country, you also must demonstrate your humanity. You should promise the children of immigrants that they can remain and grant those who immigrated here illegally a pathway to citizenship. This is largely the plan devised by a bipartisan group of senators in 2013; let’s revisit it now.

Tax reform

Everybody wants to fix the inequities and complexities of the current system, but no one wants their own ox gored. Let’s shake up the tax code and get four things done quickly, most of which have the support of a majority of public opinion and Congress: a) Lower corporate tax rates, currently the highest among the 35 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, to the median of that organization; b) Roll back marginal tax rates by increasing the income level at which income taxes kick in, expanding the lowest brackets and rolling the highest bracket back to 35 percent; c) Phase out the home mortgage interest deduction, which has contributed to the accumulation of debt, exacerbated the global financial crisis and benefited owners at the expense of renters; and d) Eliminate some of the largest tax loopholes, starting with the carried interest deduction, the ethanol subsidy and the biggest corporate giveaways.

Fix Social Security  

As an interim measure, increase the income level below which Social Security taxes are charged from $118,500 to $200,000, raise the retirement age to 69 and eliminate Social Security payments at retirement for those who made in excess of $250,000 on average in the five years before retirement. Eventually, eliminate the Social Security and Medicare taxes and replace them with something more progressive and fairer than taxing labor and capital.

Fund infrastructure 

Identify infrastructure improvements and put people to work. Provide a mix of grants to states and low interest-rate loans to public-private partnerships willing to invest in needed improvements. There will be no better time for the government to borrow than in today’s low interest-rate environment. Many Democrats already have signaled their willingness to work with the president on this issue.

Reaffirm America’s support for its allies 

We must reaffirm our commitment to NATO and our neighbors to the north and south. Go ahead and try to improve NAFTA, but don’t scrap it — our auto industries and others depend on it. As for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), you can try to make it tougher, but we can’t afford to provide a vacuum that China will fill, both in trade and geopolitics. Get the TPP done on terms you can declare acceptable.

Fix the Affordable Care Act 

A great health care system assures accessibility, affordability and quality of care. Let’s all acknowledge that the ACA (Obamacare) has increased accessibility. Yet it funded this accessibility with increased health care costs, the bulk of which were borne by the middle class — that very middle class you pledged to serve. So let’s fund this more sensibly, with user fees that moderate overuse of the system, elimination of the restrictions on insurance companies to sell across borders (I won’t be happy until health insurance ads are as ubiquitous and annoying as those Geico and Allstate ads for car insurance), and allowing people greater choice in their health care plans. Some of the funding can come from a value added tax (VAT), as discussed below.

Help Israel chart a course 

I believe Israel has been boxed into a corner. The world dictates terms but expects little in return. Let’s stipulate that the suburbs of Jerusalem, those clearly within the Israeli sphere under the Ehud Barak-Yasser Arafat negotiated borders and the Olmert plan, are Israeli. In return, Israel should dismantle the tiny enclaves whose original purpose was to make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible and expand none of the others. We should propound a set of principles that includes a solid contiguous Palestinian state, fewer checkpoints and the daily indignities to which Palestinians are subjected, and an Israel Defense Forces guarantee of security for Israel and the West Bank, and later for the Palestinian state, for a period of decades. Consider proposing an interim period of confederation, during which the West Bank can develop industry, infrastructure and institutions.

Start the discussion of a VAT 

This one doesn’t have bipartisan support — yet. Trump ran on a platform of strengthening American competitiveness. Let’s stop taxing American labor to fund Social Security and Medicare. It makes us less competitive. Plus, we should tax things other than labor and capital. We should tax consumption. A value added tax (VAT) has been accepted through much of the developed world. All consumption (excluding food, pharmaceuticals and other necessities) would be taxed. This would eliminate much of the current regressive system and would act as an indirect tax on wealth, rather than labor or capital.

Pie in the sky? Impossible to believe we can get things done? Trump already has achieved the improbable once. Let’s do it again — together.

Attorney Glenn Sonnenberg is president of Latitude Real Estate Investors and past president of Stephen Wise Temple. He sits on the boards of Bet Tzedek, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Para Los Ninos, USC Gould School of Law and Wise Freedom School Partners.