Saturday 17 March 2018

Obamacare and climate change first victims of president's pen

New administration pledges to beef up police and military, increasing cyber warfare capability

Protest: Scarlett Johansson at the Women's March on Washington yesterday Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Protest: Scarlett Johansson at the Women's March on Washington yesterday Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Nick Allen

Sitting behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump wasted no time setting out to demolish Barack Obama's legacy.

With a deliberate swipe of his black and gold pen, the new president fired the first shot in his assault on his predecessor's signature healthcare policy. Putting his pen away afterwards, Mr Trump said firmly; "OK, that's it!"

The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, gave health insurance to 20 million extra Americans, barred insurers from refusing to cover people with existing conditions, and was regarded by Mr Obama as his biggest domestic achievement. But its launch was plagued by administrative problems, and for Republicans became a symbol of costly government overreach.

The law itself can only be repealed by Congress, but Mr Trump's executive order was the start of what will be a long death by a thousand cuts. It ordered government agencies to stop issuing regulations that would expand Obamacare and to delay anything that would increase costs.

It won't just be Obamacare. From climate change and energy production, to how America trades with its partners and treats it allies, Mr Trump signalled there would be a clean breach with the Obama years. On questions of how to deal with Russia, whether to close Guantanamo Bay, policing and community relations, he indicated America would be making a 180-degree turn in the coming months. Trump supporters spoke of "erasing" Mr Obama's imprint on the country from the history books.

Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health think tank, said of the Obamacare repeal: "It's a sign that the Trump administration is looking to unwind the law in every way it can administratively. This will set the gears of the bureaucracy moving in a very different direction.

"Many of the changes envisioned in this order will take time to implement but it signals a clear direction."

Tom Price, an orthopaedic surgeon, Republican congressman and fierce Obamacare critic, is Mr Trump's nominee for health secretary. He faces a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday and will spearhead attempts to overhaul the system.

Leslie Dach, director of Protect Our Care Coalition said: "While President Trump may have promised a smooth transition the executive order does the opposite, threatening disruption for health providers and patients."

Mr Trump has said he is creating what he called a "terrific" plan to replace Obamacare, dubbed "Trumpcare". It was the first of many areas in which Mr Trump will seek to gut or reverse Mr Obama's policies.

Moments after the president took office, nearly all mentions of climate change were deleted from the White House website, apart from a statement vowing to end Mr Obama's plan to cut carbon emissions. A page devoted to LGBT issues was also deleted.

In a series of policy announcements Mr Trump gave clear signals about the direction of his administration, promising that over the coming months he will beef up the military and America's preparedness for cyber warfare.

Mr Trump has set clear goals that "other nations will not be allowed to surpass our military capability" and that America will "pursue the highest level of military readiness".

He and his generals regard cyber warfare as an emerging battlefield and, according to officials, will launch a drive to recruit the best of America's young computer experts to work at US Cyber Command.

Defence officials will also be told to prioritise a defence system against nuclear strikes by rogue states such as North Korea and Iran.

Beefing up police and their capabilities for countering large-scale riots will also be a focus in the wake of racially charged clashes in cities across America over the last few years. Mr Trump, who called himself the "law and order" candidate during the campaign, has told officials that violent crime must be reduced and he wants to see results.

Work will also begin immediately on the logistics of building a wall along the Mexico border, and how to deport illegal immigrants convicted of violent crimes, the White House said.

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