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State of the Union: Trump policy agenda starts to stick to the script

[WASHINGTON] Donald Trump's policy agenda is starting to stick to the script, even if the US president himself doesn't always. Mr Trump's first State of the Union address on Tuesday touched on immigration and infrastructure, but the speech contained few surprises and avoided some divisive pet topics. A consistent policy platform is emerging from the noise.

The president called on Congress to pass a bill that generates US$1.5 trillion for infrastructure upgrades, in addition to simplified procedures for project approvals. He also pressed the administration's case for changes to the immigration system, including beefed-up border security measures and a path to citizenship for 1.8 million individuals brought into the United States illegally.

The president included an assortment of other policy proposals, such as more defence spending, efforts to tackle the opioid epidemic and job training. He also reiterated the administration's pledge to seek fair and reciprocal trade deals with other nations, a nod to ongoing trade investigations and treaty re-negotiations. Accusations of media bias, a meme in Mr Trump's rhetoric, were absent.

In sum, few surprises. That in itself is remarkable. Last year, investors and pundits were grasping for clues as to what the administration might do. The president himself whipsawed from an inauguration address on "American carnage" to, weeks later, a more even-keeled speech to a joint session of Congress.

Today, the broad outlines of Mr Trump's legislative and regulatory agenda are reasonably clear. Of course, there are still unknowns. Tariffs on washing machines and solar panels could be only the beginning of tough actions against trade partners, for instance. But in most areas, a combination of self-imposed moderation and institutional constraint have prevailed. Last year's tax cuts have prodded companies like Apple and Walmart into politically helpful pledges over investment and wage hikes.

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There's still scope for disruptive, ad hoc policy proclamations. But as it stands, investors would be entitled to feel Mr Trump's agenda has at least become more predictable.


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