BOSTON – Initiatives such as infrastructure and health-care overhaul must compete with other priorities early in Donald Trump's administration, said a Citigroup vice president and former White House operative.
"Some of the early action will be a strain on the system," Candida "Candi" Wolff, Citi's executive vice president and head of global government affairs, said at the sixth annual Massachusetts Investor Conference.
Wolff was assistant to the president for legislative affairs in the George W. Bush administration from 2005 to 2007, and the first female to hold that position.
According to Wolff, other priorities after Republican Trump takes office Jan. 20 include a Supreme Court nominee, budget resolution, the March 15 debt limit statutory deadline and committee chairmanships. The latter will affect health-care and tax overhaul initiatives.
Trump expects to release his first budget in February.
"It will take a lot more time for issues to get realized," she told roughly 250 investors at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Dec. 7.
Trump, she said, will try to seize momentum early in his term, as did Obama early in his career with the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Act, backed by a Democratic Congress. Bush, a Republican, also benefited from same-party congressional rule in the beginning of his eight years at the White House.
"We're in one of the most fluid political environments in the past 25 years," said Wolff. "Conventional wisdom does not apply. He did not win in a traditional way."
Complicating the political landscape, she said, are terrorism, middle-class anxiety, populism and cyber attacks.
After a few months, she said, the gears on Capitol Hill should begin to slow. "Non-conventional Washington will meet conventional Washington somewhere."
While Republicans will hold advantages of 241-194 advantage in the House of Representatives and 52-46 in the Senate, which has two independents, a GOP-dominated Congress won't necessarily mean a smooth ride, Wolff added.
"The traditional tension, as everyone knows, between the executive and Congress exists no matter who is president, and no matter which party, and sometimes you're inviting more if [the party] is your own," she said. "The minute it becomes the administration's proposal, it gets beaten up."
While agreement on the need for tax overhaul is bipartisan, Trump's transition team and congressional Republicans have several strategic questions to iron out.
"Challenges remain in moving tax reform through Congress that eliminates or limits certain tax expenditures," said Wolff. "Members will have to weigh the tradeoff of supporting infrastructure spending at the cost of using that revenue to additionally lower the statutory tax rate."
Trump's October campaign policy paper on infrastructure, while sketchy on details, would involve $137 billion of tax credits that Congress would need to authorize, available only to investors in revenue-producing projects such as toll roads, toll bridges, and airports.
The plan also would seek to boost investment by allowing companies to bring their overseas earnings into the U.S. at a reduced income tax rate of 10% rather than the existing 35% Companies could avoid any tax liability by investing $122 million of the rechanneled profits into related projects.
As Bush's principal liaison to Congress, Wolff had the primary responsibility for crafting and advocating his agenda in Congress. The position included advising the president and his cabinet on legislative strategy regarding economic, domestic, international and national security matters.
She was also head of legislative affairs for Vice President Dick Cheney and worked for eight years in the U.S. Senate in senior Republican staff positions and as tax counsel to former Senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming.
Before joining Citi in 2011, she was a partner in the legislative and policy practice at law firm Hogan Lovells.