Politics

Pence Signals Busy First 100 Days, Including More Military Spending

Vice President-elect to fellow Republicans: ‘Buckle up, the vacation’s over’

Vice President-elect Mike Pence walks to a recent meeting on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday evening, he laid out the incoming Trump administration’s plans for its first 100 and 200 days. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Trump administration officials envision a busy first 100 days, when they hope to repeal the 2010 health care law, overhaul Medicaid, and send Congress a bill that would boost military spending, said Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

He laid out the ambitious agenda on Wednesday evening, but in keeping with a main theme of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign, he did not provide key details about the size and shape of the incoming administration’s policy proposals. The early Trump agenda Pence described is as bold and conservative as it is vague.

It is also rife with potential hurdles and political traps.

Trump ran a populist campaign that was based on big promises but few policy specifics. His No. 2 told the Heritage Foundation audience in Washington that the next president is “going to be in the promise-keeping business.” Pence, a former House member who appears to be the Trump team’s point man on Capitol Hill, said the transition team is already working with GOP congressional leaders to shape its agenda and the required legislation.

Pence pledged that the main focus of the Trump administration would be on economic growth. He said it will take a lot of work with lawmakers to enact all the legislation needed to rev up what was a slow-but-steady economic recovery under the Obama administration. To that end, he drew chuckles from the Heritage audience when he recalled telling his former House colleagues during a recent meeting to “buckle up, the vacation’s over.”

Though he mostly repeated first-100-days pledges he and Trump have made since Election Day, Pence did reveal plans to send Congress a “military supplemental” spending bill during the administration’s first 100 days to help with its pledge to “rebuild our military.”

[Obama Sends Messages to Trump on Terrorism, Drone Strategies]

Existing defense spending caps will be an instant hurdle. Pence did not specify whether the Trump team plans to classify the extra funding in a way that would make those dollars subject to the caps. Trump officials have not indicated whether they would cut a deal with Democrats to secure the additional defense dollars by giving them extra domestic spending. (Pence also did not indicate the size of the coming Pentagon spending bill, known as a “supplemental” in Washington parlance.)

Pence accused President Barack Obama of “hollowing out” the U.S. military, ticking off a list of combat platforms he said are more than 25 years old. “That’s about to change, everybody,” Pence said. “We’re going to restore the arsenal of democracy.”

The incoming vice chief executive started with defense policy, but spent most of his remarks about the first 100 days — after nearly 10 minutes of thank yous — talking about the new administration’s domestic plans.

He vowed that the Trump administration will repeal the health care law “lock, stock and barrel,” adding “the No. 1 priority of the administration is to keep that promise to the American people.” He did not, however, describe what the GOP would replace it with, saying only that the party will propose “free-market reforms that reduce the costs of health care without growing the size of government.”

Getting rid of the health care law without replacing it would mean 24 million people would lose health insurance by 2021, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute. That could hurt Republicans up and down the ballot in upcoming elections.

The new administration also will push legislation to give states more say over Medicaid via block grants. The idea is to allow state governments to “innovate” toward the goal of driving down health care costs “while we meet the needs of those who are struggling,” Pence said.

Should such legislation require 60 votes in the Senate, getting a handful of Democrats to support it would take some forceful arm-twisting.

Shortly after taking the oath of Office, Trump intends to repeal “every single unconstitutional executive order that Barack Obama signed into law,” Pence said to loud applause.

[Declaring U.S. ‘Open for Business,’ Trump Warns Tax Penalty for Offshoring]

He also echoed Trump by vowing to roll back scores of Obama era regulations, saying he and the president-elect heard more about that issue than any other while on campaign trail. Pence also promised to simplify the tax code and lower the federal business tax rate to 15 percent “so businesses in America can compete and create jobs in this country.”

That’s why Trump will be a “champion in the Oval Office and for American jobs,” he said.

Though the U.S. economy has improved under Obama — albeit slower than many Republicans wanted — Pence said “things are about to change in the American economy and that begins on Jan. 20.”

For Republicans in Washington, Pence left them with this advice: “We’ve got work to do. So enjoy your dinner. Then roll your sleeves up.”

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.