In the past, a president putting out a public statement that he would not accept any changes to a popular program would have been the final word. Sure, Congress might have gone ahead and passed a bill, but the veto would have been just a formality.
That’s not happening with President Donald Trump.
On Monday, he tweeted that he would not accept any changes to 401(k) retirement savings programs as part of the upcoming Republican tax reform legislation.
End of discussion, right? Not for House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, who said Wednesday that lawmakers are “exploring a number of ideas” for changing 401(k)s — though he also declined to say exactly what those might be.
There are two main reasons why Brady is still open to an idea that the president from his own party has so emphatically opposed.
First, Republicans need to find ways to save the government money in order to pay for tax cuts elsewhere in the bill. Limiting 401(k) contributions or changing them to be more like Roth IRAs — where money is taxed now instead of during your retirement — or making other tweaks would raise money to offset things like abolishing the estate tax.
Second, Trump has a problem with follow-through. In the past, he’s declared that his replacement for the Affordable Care Act would mean “we’re going to have insurance for everybody,” then backed a bill that would leave 23 million more people uninsured. His promises to declare China a currency manipulator, sue his accusers and release his tax returns have all been broken.
And his tweets, though they are considered official statements by the White House, haven’t always been backed up by official action, as when he tweeted that transgender troops would no longer be accepted without telling the Pentagon first.
Some of this stems from Trump’s negotiating style, which is to make a bold or even outlandish statement up front to set the terms of the debate, then slowly work backward to something acceptable.
While that worked in his career as a real estate developer, it means that his negotiating partners in Congress aren’t going to take his red-line pronouncements as gospel.
Even if he personally tweets them. With an all-caps “NO” to boot.