As the new year begins, it’s a good time to take stock of the tumultuous year in Washington that’s just ended, and to express the hope of a more congenial 2018.
Let’s start with the new tax bill. I’ve made no secret of my concerns about the negative effect it could have on New York state taxpayers. Yet it’s worth noting the positive prospect that the legislation will spur economic growth of 4 percent or more for the next few years. And if it does, New Yorkers’ wealth will rise along with it, potentially offsetting the impact of losing the full state and local tax deduction.
In the end, the tax bill may be neither the great boon the Republicans have predicted nor the bane Democrats have railed against. A lot of factors will help determine whether the U.S. economy will keep climbing, level off or take a dive. If deficits don’t explode, if productivity and incomes edge up, if American innovation and ingenuity keep spurring growth, then our economy may well continue to lead the world. And if American businesses are encouraged by the tax bill’s lower corporate rate to bring several trillion dollars back to the U.S. and invest in manufacturing plants and infrastructure, there should be a real spurt in job growth and wages.
Health care is the other big domestic issue we must deal with, and too much of 2017 was squandered on a fruitless debate about Obamacare. After all the sound and fury, not much was done, other than repealing the individual mandate that imposed a burdensome cost on mostly lower-income taxpayers who couldn’t afford to buy health insurance. Let’s hope that in 2018, cooler heads in Congress will act to stabilize the health insurance marketplace so that insurance is more accessible and affordable for everyone, and big premium increases are avoided.
That would require a strong dose of courage on both sides of the political aisle. Our publicly funded Medicare program, which pays for most care for older adults, is essentially heading toward insolvency, and Medicaid, which helps fund health care for poorer Americans, is straining government budgets at all levels. There are some common-sense fixes for these programs, including raising the eligibility age for future recipients of Medicare and reining in Medicaid overspending through managed care. But every time reform of these programs is proposed, one party or the other, or both, starts crying foul, and lawmakers brazenly accuse one another of hurting the old and the poor. Let’s hope for a New Year’s resolution in Washington to move past political expediency and put the good of the country first in addressing health care costs, before they bankrupt us.
Another unresolved issue that should be tackled in 2018 is immigration reform. Having served in the Senate the last time this issue was comprehensively addressed, I know there are ways to address it. This, too, will require both parties to seek common ground.
No one should object to securing our borders to stem illegal immigration. That will mean stepping up border patrols, using modern tools like e-verify to document incoming immigrants and, yes, even building a stronger wall on the border with Mexico. Too many young foreigners making their way across it have been gang criminals, like the MS-13 thugs who have plagued Long Island. If Americans are to be expected to continue welcoming immigrants, they must know that we are not being invaded by those who would do us harm.
At the same time, let’s also acknowledge that America needs immigrants. Unemployment in the U.S. is now at historic lows, and record numbers of Americans are retiring. Construction, agriculture, health care and manufacturing will depend on a flow of newcomers from other countries to bolster our workforce. And we should find a way to allow young immigrant children who were brought into the country years ago — and who have lived peacefully and love their adopted country — to remain here and become citizens.
None of these issues is too difficult for leaders of good will to take on. Let’s pray that ours resolve to gather the wisdom and the will to make 2018 a year of peace and progress.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.