The First 100 Days: What Can We Expect of a Trump Administration?

A Letter from the President and CEO
Leslie G. Sarasin
President-elect Trump has not previously held a government leadership position, so we have no experiential basis from which to forecast how he will govern.

President-elect Donald Trump's successful campaign for the office of President was marked by its unconventional tenor and free-wheeling populist spirit that challenged the existing political protocols. As a result, his first 100 days in office will receive intense scrutiny. The more conventional-minded on both sides of the aisle are wondering if he'll temper his approach as he experiences the ways holding the office differ from running for it. And the populists who elected him will be watching to see if the unconventional candidate they supported maintains the fire in his belly that captured their imaginations.

President-elect Trump has not previously held a government leadership position, so we have no experiential basis from which to forecast how he will govern. Some may tease insights from his business management style, but that path is fraught with perilous speculation. I prefer to ground my observations in what we know based on clear signs revealing what his priorities likely will be.

First, if we accept the notion that we are known by the company we keep, those the president-elect identifies and recruits for his leadership team offer critical insights into his thinking. We are deeply in to this team-building process, and thus far President-elect Trump has not shied away from controversy, conversing with people who in some cases are irritating to his supporters and in other cases talking with potential leaders who add fuel to the fire of those who opposed him. In some cases, he has tipped his practical hat to the need to surround himself with individuals having government experience, but he has also not shied away from having high-ranking cabinet positions held by those he considers not part of the "swamp."

Thus far, the emerging picture framed by Trump's cabinet choices has not deviated far from the priorities he espoused during his campaign. What will be telling is his degree of success in getting the team he wants, as the slate he puts forward begins to go through the numerous time-consuming confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate, followed by full Senate votes on the vetted candidates. Even with a 50-vote threshold on confirmations in a Senate controlled by 52 Republicans, these steps take some time for vetting and voting. The process will reveal much regarding how Mr. Trump's administration will approach its work with Congress.

Second, based on the content of his post-election communication, we can clearly expect the Trump administration to continue with its populist messaging on nearly all policy issues. At FMI, we are refining our messages to ensure the populist goals are clear in our priority issues. The impact of our policy ideas on employment and the lives of customers must be paramount.

Third, there is a certain amount of backlogged work to be done and folded into the administration's agenda. Congress recently concluded its 2016 session by finalizing a government funding bill, which ultimately kicked the funding can down the road for four months to give the Trump administration time to get its team in place and set priorities. But sometimes when one can is kicked as far as it can go, funding the government until April via a continuing resolution, it collides with another can that also has been kicked as far as it can go—the debt ceiling.

At the end of April, the new administration is likely to face the expiration of a continuing resolution for funding and the expiration of the debt ceiling, just at the moment when it needs to propose a 2018 budget. The administration will need to gain approval of a 2018 budget resolution in order to use it as part of reconciliation for repeal and replacement of Obamacare and/or to achieve its desired tax reforms. Legislation advanced through the budget reconciliation process only requires 50 Senate votes instead of the typical filibuster-proof threshold of 60 votes.

Fourth, we anticipate the new Trump administration will attempt to go bipartisan—to find an issue with strong appeal to both parties. Among all of President-elect Trump's campaign promises, perhaps the issue bearing the most hope for bipartisan support is spending to improve the nation's infrastructure. Certainly the food retail industry recognizes the need for good roads and bridges to transport goods efficiently. The question ahead of us will be the size and scope of infrastructure spending and the means through which the new president will choose to fund it.

We certainly expect to see significantly fewer regulations from the Trump administration than that experienced during the Obama administration. Among Mr. Trump's campaign promises—and one reiterated as an anticipated action in his 100 days in office—was a rule that for every new regulation, two would be eliminated. While an intentional slowdown in federal regulation sounds welcoming, we must be aware that such a slowdown at the federal level can ignite accelerated activity from environmental and consumer activists and spark more action on state and local government levels. This means the food retail industry must be more assertive about getting in front of these issues, defining them ourselves before others define them for us. At FMI we are working on plans to provide additional opportunities for transparency as well as a better, louder early warning system.

It will be a very busy and direction-setting first 100 days for the Trump administration. The whole world will be watching, but even more important—FMI will be working to ensure the voice of food retail is heard as these actions are considered.