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Washington Matters

What to Expect From Trump's First 100 Days

He’ll score quick wins with executive orders slashing regs. But it will be slower going on undoing Obamacare, tax law, and other legislation.

Gage Skidmore via Flickr

The biggest challenge for President Donald Trump: Following through on the ambitious agenda he spelled out on the campaign trail. His first 100 days in office will be a key test, giving the new administration time to learn the ropes of governing and to see how its relationship with Congress develops.

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Many of Trump’s most ambitious goals won’t get done in 100 days. The list includes repealing and replacing Obamacare, cutting business and personal tax rates, reworking trade deals and passing a $1 trillion infrastructure repair program.

Trump will register some early wins that will resonate with voters who elected him to make bold changes: Using rule changes and executive orders to dismantle some of Obama’s labor and environmental programs. And nominating a conservative to give the right an advantage on the Supreme Court.

But the outcome and timing for his biggest promises will depend heavily on how the Trump administration and Congress resolve spending issues that will come up early in his term: In mid-March, when Congress must raise the federal debt ceiling or risk default. And the next month, when lawmakers must pass legislation to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

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Both must—and will—get done, but not without some pushback from Republicans who are concerned about the federal debt and reluctant to boost federal spending. Their resistance could force Trump to scrap or scale back many of his biggest plans.

Here’s how many of the key issues are likely to play out:

Obamacare

The fight over President Obama’s health care law will take longer than many Republicans expected. The GOP has the votes to repeal Obamacare but not to replace it. That’s just as well, since Republicans still don’t have a replacement plan for Congress to vote on. With few details in place and with Democratic votes needed for some of the replacement provisions in the Senate, Obamacare could stick around for a few years, maybe even longer.

Tax Reform

There’s broad support among Republicans for overhauling the nation’s tax code. But as always, the devil is in the details. Don’t be surprised if tax reform is pushed back until next year, as lawmakers spar over which deductions to eliminate or reduce in order to make up for the lower revenue that will come in when the tax rates are lowered for both businesses and individuals.

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Infrastructure

Improving the nation’s aging infrastructure is an issue with bipartisan support. But debate over the final price tag and how to pay for the program will move the measure down Trump’s priorities list. A scaled-back program will eventually pass, but not until later this year at the earliest.

Trade

Trump will claim a quick victory on trade by scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It should be easy, since the U.S. can pull out of talks for the 12-nation deal without any involvement from Congress. But don’t look for the U.S. to exit the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump has the power to pull the plug on the pact and has talked about doing so. He is more likely to try renegotiating some of NAFTA’s terms instead. Among the possible changes: Adding language covering digital data exchanges, not widely used when the deal was first signed 20 years ago.

China

Since doing so would likely spark a trade war, Trump won’t be as tough on China as he promised. That means no 45% tariffs on Chinese imports and perhaps a long delay on declaring China a currency manipulator. Both countries are heavily invested in each other, and retaliatory efforts from China could hurt U.S. manufacturers and farmers. Trump will complain about China early and often. But in the end, his tough talk is likely to form the basis of future negotiations with Beijing.

Rules, Regulations and Executive Orders

Trump’s biggest early wins will be through rules and executive orders that don’t require votes. He will end Obama’s ban on coal mining permits and speed up the federal review process for pipelines and other energy infrastructure. He will also reverse a handful of pro-labor rules, such as the Obama-era overtime rules, and replace them with employer-friendly provisions.

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One factor to keep an eye on: Whether the Congressional Review Act is used. Republicans devised the law as a check on then-President Bill Clinton. So far it has only been used once, when Congress killed Clinton’s ergonomics rules shortly after he left office. The act can be used to ax any Obama rules put in place after June 13. But Republicans are likely to tread lightly because of Review Act language that prevents lawmakers from issuing “substantially similar” rules in the future.

Wild Cards

One or more unknowns can further complicate the president’s plans. The biggest wild card, for now, is Trump’s dealings with the Russians. Many Republicans are uncomfortable with his apparent willingness to cozy up to President Vladimir Putin. Every day spent deconstructing that relationship is one less day to debate major measures. Off-the-cuff comments about Europe and NATO can spell trouble, too. Almost all presidents face unexpected challenges after taking office. Remember George W. Bush? He was going to be the education president until terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001.

Martha Craver, John Miley, David Payne, Glenn Somerville and Joy Taylor contributed to this report.

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