Trump: I'm looking at breaking up Wall Street banks and maybe raising the gas tax

Breaking up the banks is an idea I’d expect from a populist president. Raising the gas tax is … not.

The consensus view on political Twitter, which I think is correct, is that “we’re looking at it” is the stock White House answer anytime they get a policy question they’re not prepared to answer. Float a policy idea to Trump, domestic or foreign, and odds are the worst you’re going to do in terms of him ruling it out is some variation of the “looking” reply. What term did Reince Priebus use when asked yesterday if the administration wanted to reform libel laws via a constitutional amendment? Right — they’ve looked at it. Which makes sense: A guy whose policy preferences seem to shift depending upon which advisors are in favor at a particular moment naturally wouldn’t want to take anything off the table. Offhand the only idea I can think of that’s been pretty firmly dismissed as a nonstarter is, er, entitlement reform. And even there — you never know.

President Donald Trump said he is actively considering breaking up giant Wall Street banks, giving a push to efforts to revive a Depression-era law separating consumer lending and investment banking.

“I’m looking at that right now,” Trump said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg News in the Oval Office. “There’s some people that want to go back to the old system, right? So we’re going to look at that.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a “21st century” version of the 1933 Glass-Steagall law that required the separation of consumer lending and investment banking.

Asked about the gas tax, Trump said, “It’s something that I would certainly consider” so long as the revenue is earmarked for highway infrastructure. When Gallup polled that issue back in 2013, asking Americans whether they’d support or oppose a gas-tax rate of 20 cents per gallon to fund repairs to roads and bridges, they got a breezy 29/66 split with even Democrats opposed by a 40/55 margin. Republicans were almost universally against the idea at 15/84, but that was back during the Obama era when GOPers were still pretending to be fiscal conservatives. (It was also an era when gas was about $1.30 more expensive per gallon than it is now.) If Trump comes out strongly in favor, I bet we can get that number to, oh, 40/60. File the gas-tax hike under “still probably going to be ‘looking at it’ in 2020.”

Breaking up the banks seems more plausible, and not just because it’s right in line with Trump’s populist brand. A Rasmussen poll taken in 2013 found 50 percent of American adults in favor of a break-up versus 23 percent opposed; a more recent poll, conducted in 2015 by a left-leaning group, found national support above 55 percent, albeit via some heavily loaded poll questions. Either way, this would be an easy message for Trump to sell to his base and to elements of the left. It’s hard to believe he’d make a serious effort given the volume of Wall Street alums surrounding him in the White House, but former GS president and current top Trump advisor Gary Cohn told a roomful of lawmakers a few weeks ago that he was in favor of Wall Street banks separating their consumer-lending businesses from their investment banks. If Cohn and Steve Bannon, normally nemeses, both want to bring back Glass-Steagall, then maybe Glass-Steagall really is coming back.

Here’s Reince yesterday commenting on the possibility of a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning. His answer: That’ll “get looked at.”

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David Strom 12:01 PM on October 07, 2022