- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2016

Luckily for congressional Republicans, there’s still plenty of time to shape Donald Trump’s policies.

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee has released a handful of position papers, but other than immigrants and guns, Mr. Trump has left most of his agenda blank, giving others a chance to help him fill in the details more to their liking.

Indeed, analysts charged with refereeing politicians’ proposals say that there’s little concrete to work with so far on everything from education to taxes to budgeting, and without more information they can’t begin to figure out the implications of what he’s planning.

“I would like to hear much more clear positions on policy,” Rep. Charles W. Dent, Pennsylvania Republican, said Thursday after Mr. Trump held separate meetings with House and Senate GOP leaders on the outskirts of Capitol Hill.

Mr. Trump has released position papers on six issues so far: tax reform, Second Amendment rights, reforms at Veterans Affairs, U.S.-China trade relations, health care and immigration, where he’s released two papers. The first of the immigration papers laid out broad goals, while the second gave details on how he might pay for his border wall.

But other than immigration, the other papers rarely went beyond broad prescriptions — and often were contradicted by Mr. Trump himself soon after.

On tax reform Mr. Trump proposed new income tax brackets with lower rates for labor and investment income, and said he would then eliminate many of the exemptions and deductions that taxpayers currently use to reduce their burden.

His written plan says the mortgage interest and charitable donation deductions will remain for everyone, but the wealthy would keep few other exemptions. Likewise for corporations, where he said his new low rates would make existing loopholes and deductions “unnecessary or redundant.”

But a day after he released his tax plan, Mr. Trump began caveating his pledge in an interview on Fox News. Asked about deductions for corporate jets, Mr. Trump said those should be left intact. And when host Bill O’Reilly asked about deductions for sports tickets, Mr. Trump said those should stay too.

“If it’s used for business, we are not knocking that out,” he said.

Budget analysts admitted to being confused about Mr. Trump’s plans.

“We know some of the details, but we had to make a lot of them for our analysis,” said Roberton Williams, a fellow at the Tax Policy Center, which calculated Mr. Trump’s plans would punch a new $9.5 trillion hole in the federal budget over the next decade.

Part of the problem is Mr. Trump’s campaign didn’t provide answers to any of the questions the Tax Policy Center asked. By contrast, both Sen. Bernard Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did work with the TPC, going back and forth to nail down details of their own plans.

What analysts can say is that Mr. Trump’s plan would reduce tax rates, raise the standard deduction and limit the value of itemized deductions, leaving millions more taxpayers with an easier tax form and potentially no income tax liability.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly signaled he’s willing to bend, and told Fox News last week that “everything, honestly, is going to be up” for negotiations.

“I’m not the one that does the tax plan. It’s me and lots of congressmen and lots of senators,” he said. “Certain things will change and certain things will stay the same.”

Asked how he would cover the massive budget hole, Mr. Trump has said he’d eliminate agencies and tackle waste in government spending. He’s said he won’t limit Social Security payments but will try to find savings by eliminating fraud.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which serves as a referee for budget plans, said there’s no question there’s waste, but it’s not enough to cover the kinds of gaps Mr. Trump is talking about.

“One doesn’t feel yet that he’s familiar enough with the policies to know how he would generate savings,” she said.

On education Mr. Trump has laid out a number of broad goals, such as ending federal involvement in the Common Core learning standards. But he’s also listed education as one of three key federal functions, sparking consternation among conservatives who say it’s a state and local responsibility instead.

Brandon Wright, editorial director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, said Mr. Trump has indicated broad support for school choice but could give more details about how the federal government should encourage it.

“There [were] some indications early on he wanted to eliminate the department. He seems to have changed his tune on that slightly,” Mr. Wright said.

“He may cut the funding of the Department of Education — how much is unclear [and] what programs he would cut is unclear. So I’d like to know more about that,” the analyst said.

Where Mr. Trump has been specific — such as his call for a pause on admitting Muslims to the U.S. — he’s worried Republican members of Congress, who say that’s a bridge too far.

This week, ahead of meetings Thursday with GOP congressional leaders, Mr. Trump signaled flexibility on his Muslim plans too.

Mr. Trump and the GOP leaders emerged from the meetings saying they’ve begun the process of finding common ground — though they said it will take a lot more work to get on the same page when it comes to specific policies.

“We talked about all these issues. And our policy teams are meeting to just walk through details,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said. “Again, this is a process. We just began the process. I’m very encouraged at the first meeting of this process. And going forward, we are going to go a little deeper into the policy weeds to make sure that we have a better understanding of one another.

Mr. Dent said he’s hoping Mr. Trump takes advantage of the expertise built up by people like Mr. Ryan, who spent years writing budget blueprints that rein in entitlement spending.

“One thing I would say: Donald Trump has made it pretty clear that he is, I think, pretty willing to work with Congress and virtually everything is negotiable, so ” Mr. Dent said, trailing off but leaving the implication clear.

Seth McLaughlin and S.A. Miller contributed to this article.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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