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Trump administration looks to roll back Obama’s reforms

Steven Mnuchin, national finance chairman of President-elect Donald Trump's campaign, walks to lunch at Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York.

Evan Vucci/AP

Donald Trump is taking direct aim at Barack Obama's legacy as he assembles an administration team bent on rolling back some of his signature reforms in health care, immigration and more.

Far from retreating from his campaign rhetoric, the U.S. president-elect's early picks for top jobs in the administration and the White House suggest he's doubling down with direct appeals to hardliners and conservatives.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump named Republican Tom Price – one of the leading Obamacare foes in Congress – to be his point-man on overhauling Mr. Obama's health-care reforms as secretary of the massive Health and Human Services department.

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Also Tuesday, Mr. Trump selected Elaine Chao, 63, a U.S. labour secretary under George W. Bush, to be transportation secretary, and reportedly will name Steven Mnuchin, 53, to the critical treasury-secretary post. Mr. Mnuchin is a wealthy Wall Street financier who runs private-equity firm Dune Capital Management and is an investor in several Hollywood blockbuster movies.

Mr. Mnuchin may be tasked with rolling back elements of the postfinancial-crisis crackdown on Wall Street banks.

Mr. Obama acknowledged after the election that Mr. Trump and the Republican-led Congress would undo at least some of what he's accomplished in the past eight years. He rationalized to The New Yorker magazine that he had accomplished as much as 75 per cent of what he set out to do, and "maybe 15 per cent of that gets rolled back, 20 per cent, but there's still a lot of stuff that sticks."

Mr. Trump seems determined to hack away at as much of the 75 per cent as possible – from a nuclear-arms deal with Iran to freer trade, plus a broad swath of domestic policies. But Congress Democrats insist they won't give the new administration a free pass on dismantling the Obama legacy.

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Obamacare is at the top of Mr. Trump's hit list. Dr. Price, a 62-year-old former orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, has long complained that Washington shouldn't be dictating what kind of care Americans get, while advocating for more private-sector involvement. Among other things, Dr. Price opposes federal funding of abortion and forcing private insurers to cover contraception. He has also called for restricting access to two expensive federal programs for the seniors and the poor – Medicare and Medicaid.

Dr. Price's mandate will be to work with Congress to "repeal and replace" the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters.

"It's potentially something we start taking action on as soon as Day 1," Mr. Miller said. "This is an issue that is on the front burner for so many Americans across the country."

Obamacare expanded coverage to millions of Americans who don't have health care by offering them tax credits to join government-backed plans, fostering private insurance markets and expanding Medicaid coverage.

Repealing Mr. Obama's health-care reforms may be relatively straightforward. Replacing them with something affordable to tax payers and the uninsured could prove much trickier. On Tuesday, incoming Senate majority leader Charles Schumer accused Mr. Trump's team of mounting "a war on seniors" by selecting Dr. Price to overhaul the program.

Immigration is another area where a key Trump pick – Attorney-General Jeff Sessions – says a lot about where his administration may seek to go. Mr. Sessions, 69, opposes creating a path to citizenship for the roughly 10 million people in the U.S. illegally. He also pushed for strict caps on legal immigrants. If confirmed, the Alabama senator and anti-immigration crusader will be the country's top law-enforcement official, with extensive powers to enforce immigration laws and carry out mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.

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Meanwhile, Mr. Trump's pick for education secretary, Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos, 58, also suggests big changes may be coming to a cornerstone of Democratic education policy – funding of poor neighbourhood schools. Ms. DeVos is an advocate of converting public school funding into vouchers that students and parents can use for private or charter schools. The fear among Democrats is that a Trump administration might pay for his proposed $20-billion (U.S.) school voucher program by unwinding civil-rights era legislation that directs billions of federal dollars to public schools.

Mr. Trump has already signalled an anti-trade shift, and he has just the man for the job. Mr. Trump's apparent pick for commerce secretary is Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor who has shown a fondness for old industries, such as steel, coal and textiles, and old-school protectionism.

Another key achievement for Mr. Obama was the nuclear-arms deal with Iran. It too could be at risk if Mr. Trump leans heavily on the advice of his CIA director Michael Pompeo and retired lieutenant-general Mike Flynn, his national-security adviser. Both men have been harsh critics of the deal that lifted economic sanctions in return for a pledge by Iran not to develop nuclear weapons.

The problem, of course, is that Iran has already secured most of what it needs out of the agreement, while its own commitments continue. So if Mr. Trump wants a new deal, he'll have to bring Iran back to the table, while also persuading Europe, China and Russia to reimpose tough economic sanctions.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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