Many Americans will remember President Donald Trump’s presidency as a four-yearlong storm of tweets, rallies and on-air rants that ended in a mob riot and historic second impeachment. But there was more to the Trump presidency than attention-hogging political drama and conflict; often unnoticed, Trump and his administration actually did succeed in changing some of the ways Washington works.
From imposing a ban on Chinese-made drones to rolling back rules on sexual harassment, from cracking down on robocalls to letting states legalize marijuana, Trump changed some key areas of federal policy in ways that may have lasting impact well after he’s gone.
But here’s the thing — between all the news coverage of the president himself, a global pandemic and various other upheavals, there’s a good chance you missed a lot of them. So here is POLITICO’s list of 30 important policy changes Trump made as president, how they’ve affected our lives, families and businesses, and the prospects they will survive the incoming Biden administration.
Trump didn’t repeal Obamacare — he accidentally bolstered it
Trump came into office vowing to repeal Obamacare — and even took the law to court when that failed in Congress. But his most significant imprint on the Affordable Care Act was an accidental boost that happened when he stumbled into pouring billions of extra federal dollars into subsidizing Americans’ coverage.
The move: House Republicans had tried for years to cut off subsidies that helped low-income Obamacare enrollees with the co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles that come with their health plans. In 2017, Trump finally did it through administrative means after the GOP effort to replace the law fell apart — and he immediately drew intense outcry from Democrats and policy experts who called the move “sabotage.”
The impact: The health exchanges didn’t collapse, as Trump had hoped. Instead, health plans and states quickly figured out a way to claw back the federal dollars they lost: They built the costs of the subsidies into premiums for Obamacare’s benchmark “silver” policies. This meant that premiums for these “silver” plans spiked and as a result, the premium subsidies the government had to pay for low-income enrollees vastly increased. The concept, known as “silver-loading,” grew government subsidizing of the exchanges by upwards of $20 billion per year.
The upshot: While Trump’s moves made Obamacare plans increasingly unaffordable for the unsubsidized, Democrats quickly tamped down their criticisms since it accomplished their goal of significantly boosting funding for Obamacare. The incoming Biden administration isn’t likely to reverse course. — Susannah Luthi
Trump refocused national security on great power competition
Defense policy documents are so abundant they could wallpaper the Pentagon. But the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy stands out as one of the most important defense policy shifts of the last generation, reorienting the American military to confront rising and increasingly aggressive powers Russia and China.
The move: The 2018 strategy rewired the Defense Department’s vast bureaucracy away from a focus on fighting insurgents and terrorists in the Middle East toward a long-term strategic competition with China and Russia. As a result, the military is changing how it trains personnel, which technologies it buys, and the geographic areas of the world where it prioritizes its forces.
The impact: Already it has led to a reordering of the Pentagon budget and new investments supported by a bipartisan majority in Congress, including billions of dollars to beef up the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific.
The upshot: Despite differences in tone and rhetoric, this is a refocusing of the United States’ military posture that is expected to continue in the Biden administration. — Bryan Bender
Trump failed to provide workplace guidance, making safety harder for workers
Arguably the most consequential decision Trump made involving American workers was something it chose not to do: It declined to implement a so-called “emergency temporary standard” when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Such a standard, issued when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determines workers are in “grave danger,” would have established immediate and mandatory workplace safety rules employers must follow to protect employees from exposure.
The move: Despite pressure from Democrats, unions and worker advocates, OSHA refused to set rules for worker safety during the pandemic. Republicans defended the decision by saying the burden on companies struggling to stay afloat amid the recession would be too great. In the absence of a standard, employers have only had to comply with a mix of optional guidelines, able to pick and choose what precautions they take.
The impact: The agency’s backseat approach to workplace safety means Americans still face a dangerously unpredictable range of safety conditions when they show up to work. Though OSHA has cited some companies for coronavirus-related transgressions, many large corporations received meager fines even in cases where workers died from Covid-19. Democrats have attempted to include language mandating an emergency temporary standard in future rounds of pandemic aid — but their efforts have been unsuccessful.
The upshot: One of the first things a Biden administration will likely move to do is instruct OSHA to step up worker safety enforcement — including by enacting an emergency standard and ramping up penalties on violators. Biden’s campaign also pledged to double the number of OSHA investigators to enforce the law and existing standards. — Eleanor Mueller