By Bill Crane, contributor
Like, love or loathe him, it is clear that President Donald J. Trump’s brand of politics is scorched earth. If you take a swing, he will swing back and probably harder. His blows don’t always connect of course, and he often ends up damaging himself.
A reasonably well-respected United Nations Ambassador, Nikki Haley, announces her own pending departure. Before this became an almost weekly event in the Trump White House, there was a significant amount of punditry around who might replace her, or become the ‘face of America’ on the floor of the U.N. Assembly Hall. Trumpster fire distraction…”I might appoint my daughter Ivanka.”
White House Chief of Staff, Defense Secretary and Director of Homeland Security depart in successive order, leaving a series of “acting” Secretaries in place without Senate confirmation. Trumpster fire… “I might appoint my son-in-law Jared.” I think I’m noting a pattern here.
The U.S. economy continues to perform as if on steroids. The month of June and second quarter, when many economists were forecasting a slowdown and “cooling,” produced nearly a quarter million new jobs. President Trump and his trade representatives have negotiated the U.S./Mexico/Canada, Trade Agreement to replace NAFTA, however the new treaty has not begun the confirmation process required in the U.S. Senate, and though brinkmanship and threatening massive tariffs may destabilize the financial markets, it has, so far, been a successful brokering tool for getting China back to the negotiating table.
As with President Trump’s recent desire for a massive spectacle and salute to the military on the Fourth of July, the devil is in the details. His speech was reasonably high-minded and patriotic, without devolving into jingoism or becoming a campaign platform. The President stuck largely to script and teleprompter, and he stayed until the end despite some pretty heavy rainfall (which he despises) and which somewhat made he and his First Lady appear a bit wilted before they were able to make a speedy exit.
And yet this platform also provided the perfect stage for another missed opportunity.
For nearing a quarter century, during Democratic and Republican administrations alike, Congress and the White House have been wrestling with a gaffe and glitch in federal law which has diminished survivor death benefits for widows of service personnel. This glitch is known as “The Widow’s Tax.” A long standing V.A. death benefit is a roughly $15,000 annual payment, paid monthly, to the survivors of uniformed service personnel killed in the line of duty.
A second program, offered by the Department of Defense, the Survivor Benefits plan, is funded out of potential retirement benefits of the enlisted, via payroll deduction and subsidized by the DOD, providing survivors up to 55 percent of the salary of the departed soldier. As a cost-saving measure, post-Vietnam and prior to the first Persian Gulf conflict, the DOD introduced a funding cut offset. For every dollar paid out by the V.A. death benefit, up to $15,000 per year, the pay-out from the DOD survivor benefits plan is reduced by matching dollar amount paid to widows. Many families figured this out and changed the beneficiary on the second policy to their children, versus the widowed parent. This saved families suffering great loss more than $1,000 a month. Until the 2018 Tax Law went into effect. The new law ended the benefit of passing this benefit through to surviving children, and subjects that income to an income tax of up to 35 percent.
The latest Congressional bill to “fix” this mess has 324 U.S. House and 72 U.S. Senate co-sponsors. Bi-partisan with greased skids anyone? The President should have challenged Congress to have this bill on his desk, ready for signature prior to Labor Day, while celebrating the Fourth with veteran families at the same time.
This would have been wedding the President’s stated priorities with his actions, and not just symbolism, Tweets or commanding attention. The cost of this change is estimated to be about $5.6 billion, and will immediately impact roughly 65,000 survivor families. And with that type of substantive “real news” in his remarks, several attending members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, might have appeared a bit happier to be there.
So Mr. President, though I know you are not one greatly prone to taking advice and counsel from others: more action, less distraction. Communicate, complete and deliver more of your agenda: less million shots a day, more laser beam, less shotgun style. Fewer Trumpster fires, more solutions that matter. You’ll be glad you did.