Special Edition: Disability Policy News In Brief

President Trump's Address to a Joint Session of Congress

March 2, 2017

On February 28, President Donald Trump gave his first address to a joint session of Congress.

Presidents normally give their State of the Union address to Congress at this time of the year, but since President Trump has been in office for less than a year, the speech did not technically qualify as a State of the Union address. The following is a brief summary of the President's remarks on a number of issues that concern people with disabilities.

President Trump expounded upon several of his budget proposals in his address to a joint session of Congress on February 28. In line with earlier announcements of plans to raise defense spending, the President announced that his budget would eliminate the defense sequester and institute one of the largest-ever increases in defense spending. He also stated that his budget would "increase funding for our veterans," but provided no information as to what that would entail.

The President called on Congress "to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth." However, he offered no details on how that bill might look and the chances of one making it through Congress will depend heavily on how it's packaged and structured. "These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them," the President said.

Health Care and Medicaid
President Trump reiterated his commitment to repealing the Affordable Care Act during his address but offered almost no policy guidance as to how Congress should resolve the many disputes that surround the repeal and replacement process. While the President expressed support for the use of expanded Health Savings Accounts and tax credits (measures that Republicans in Congress support), he did not comment as to whether he believed that tax credits should be refundable, an issue that divides many members of his party in Congress. The President also indicated support for placing Medicaid in the hands of state governments but gave no information as to whether he would do so through a per capita cap or a full block grant. Additionally, the President promised to ensure that Americans with preexisting conditions could continue to receive coverage but he offered no details as to how a replacement plan would accomplish this or if the legal requirement set up by the ACA would be altered or removed.
President Trump also made a brief reference to the controversy surrounding high drug prices, stating that Congress should "work to bring down the artificially high price of drugs." He also criticized the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process for approving new pharmaceuticals, indicating his intention to possibly reduce regulations and shorten reviews of new drugs before they can be marketed legally.

Employment and Immigration
The President placed particularly strong emphasis on employment issues in his speech, frequently interweaving them with his administration's positions on immigration and trade. After criticizing the effects of free trade agreements such as NAFTA on the manufacturing sector, he pledged to bring millions of jobs back to the United States and boost support for the oil and coal industries. In a surprise move, President Trump also announced support for instituting a "merit-based immigration system". Merit-based immigration systems, which have been implemented in countries such as Australia and Canada, have traditionally emphasized giving preference to highly educated immigrants, often severely restricting family-based immigration and excluding potential immigrants who work in unskilled jobs. While some Congressional Republicans have expressed support for merit-based reforms to the U.S. immigration system, other party members have sharply criticized such systems in the past, including President Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon. The President did not discuss his proposed system in significant detail, raising questions over whether it would actively seek to attract skilled immigrants to the U.S. or if it would effectively limit overall immigration. If such a reform is instituted, it will be the most significant change to the U.S. immigration system since 1965.

The President announced that he will ask Congress to approve legislation that would allocate $1 trillion to infrastructure spending and spur the creation "millions" of new jobs. He offered no specific details on what such legislation would entail, but stated that both public and private capital would contribute to investment, and that the legislation would be driven by two principles: "Buy American, and Hire American".