Politics

Trump Team Seeks Privatization Solutions For Programs

| by Nik Bonopartis

As President-elect Donald Trump reveals his choices for major Cabinet and advisory posts, he's also revealing his broader agenda as the nation's leader, and much of it revolves around privatization.

Trump's nominees are mostly fiscal conservatives who say they believe in the power of free markets to increase competition, drive down prices and correct institutional problems in agencies that have long been plagued by inefficiences and scandals, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

To head the VA, Trump's team is reportedly looking at Pete Hegseth, a former Army infantry officer and executive director of the conservative Vets for Freedom group. Also under consideration is Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who has been a proponent of spending more money on benefits and care for military veterans.

Both Miller and Hegseth are likely to push for privatizing health care for veterans, according to a report in the Miami Herald. In addition, Trump's team is being advised by Concerned Veterans for America, a pro-privatization group backed by Charles and David Koch, the Republican super donors who are often seen as a counterweight to billionaire George Soros.

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Efforts to privatize care for veterans wouldn't eliminate the VA, but it would allow veterans use doctors outside the VA system, experts say. The push for privatization has gained steam since the VA scandal of 2014, which revealed major systematic problems -- veterans had to wait unreasonably long times for medical and mental health appointments, and some had died from lack of care or taken their own lives while waiting for those appointments.

Additional investigations found that VA officials falsified documents to make the system appear more efficient than it was to ensure managers earned performance bonuses. The problems with the VA are ongoing and remain the subject of intense congressional scrutiny.

During his campaign, Trump spoke often and enthusiastically about embarking on a comprehensive, nationwide infrastructure improvement effort, and his transition team's choices reflect early plans to set that effort in motion.

To fund infrastructure improvements, the Trump team is looking to enlist private companies by offering them significant tax breaks, according to the Miami Herald. The cost of maintaining and improving the nation's infrastructure is enormous -- about $3.6 trillion is needed, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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Through a combination of tax breaks, equity investments and loans through private financial markets, team Trump says it has found a solution to coming up with at least $1 trillion to start the infrastructure overhaul, according to Architect Magazine.

"With interest rates so low, this has got to be the best time from a break-even point of view, from a societal point of view,” said Wilbur Ross, a private equity investor who helped draft an infrastructure plan for the Trump campaign.

The president-elect has also spoken about his desire to take government out of the business of providing student loans. Of all his privatization plans, it would be among the simplest to implement, allowing private banks to offer competitive loans to students.

“It’s one of the only places, frankly, where the government actually makes money and they make a lot of money, and that should not take place," Trump said in a campaign video.

And finally, Trump and his political allies -- including more traditional Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan -- have their sights set on privatizing Medicare. Like Trump's proposed reforms to the VA, any overhaul would largely leave the structure of the system intact, with the biggest change coming in the form of vouchers for seniors to use out-of-network doctors.

“You can’t get rid of Medicare,” Trump said in November 2015, reports The Washington Post. “It’d be a horrible thing to get rid of. It actually works.”

Sources: Miami Herald, Architect Magazine, The Washington Post / Photo credit: FAEF Wiki/Wikimedia Commons

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