In an increasingly polarized political climate, compromise seems out of reach—but not to one Trump official.

Paul Teller, Trinity ’93 and special assistant to President Donald Trump for legislative affairs, spoke at an American Grand Strategy lecture Thursday. The discussion was moderated by Michael Munger, professor of political science and director of the philosophy, politics and economics certificate.

“You’re always compromising in some respect,” Teller said.

Teller, also former chief of staff to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for his 2012 presidential campaign, described himself as the liaison to the “conservative movement” and noted his history of “finding troublemakers to work for.”

As part of his job, Teller reaches out to more conservative members of the House and Senate, as well as to outside groups such as activist groups and think tanks to ensure that these three components are working together.

“There are definitely major initiatives we are working towards where the goal and the main strategy is to make sure Republicans are voting with the President,” Teller said.

However, Teller said this does not automatically discount the possibility of "reaching across the aisle" to seek bipartisan collaboration, as compromise amidst heightened polarization necessitates strong efforts from leaders like himself.

Teller explained that Trump often “laments” partisanship because his has more experience striking business deals in New York City than with partisan politics. As a consequence, Trump encouraged Teller to “bring in Democrats,” Teller said.

Health care

One example of compromise was unveiled this week—bipartisan support for funding Obamacare for the next two years. The bill was proposed by ranking members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee—Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively.

Teller explained that although some Republican senators would prefer a full repeal of Obamacare, he gauged how many incremental changes were needed so the parties can come as close to that ideal as possible.

Addressing what went wrong with bipartisan support in the past, Teller said he believed that since Obamacare was “branded with a well-liked President,” this makes it unlikely for the opposition to gain enough momentum.

“Most Republicans were not regarding those who were reaching out to the other side,” Teller said.

Debt ceiling

On budget control, Teller said Republicans were “neck deep.”

Passed in 2011, the Budget Control Act established budget caps on spending in order for the debt ceiling to be raised, and also created a super committee to produce a deficit reduction plan. If the committee failed to establish a plan, sequestration—automatic spending cuts—would take place. 

The committee failed to create such a plan in 2011 and sequestration took place. A concern with Trump's defense spending bill is that it will not meet the BCA budget caps and would similarly be subject to sequestration. 

Because of the threat of sequestration, some legislators—primarily conservatives—are in favor of raising these caps while others want to lower or preserve the caps the way they are. When the conservative movement failed to come up with a debt ceiling solution, Trump decided to approach two Democratic heavy hitters—Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives, and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.

“You need something. You can’t really beat something with nothing. You have to beat something with something. They didn’t have something," Teller said.

In response to efforts to seek this compromise with minority leaders, conservatives have complained that Trump has cooperated too much with Democrats, so much so that Teller said  the party is “still feeling reverberations.”

“You want to be nice, but I also wanted to rub it in their face,” Teller said. “I didn’t, but the urge is still there.”

Tax reform

While serving as the conservative liaison, Teller noted his biggest surprise has been how much the legislative branch delegates authority to the executive branch. The legislature is established to be the primary vehicle to pass legislation on such issues as tax reform. But in many cases, he noted, those who work in Congress defer such power to the executive branch.

“I wish I had a dollar for every time someone in the congressional world said, 'Why don’t you just write us a bill and give it to us?'” Teller said.

He added that though the White House is happy to work with the Congress on principles and framework, it falls to the legislative branch—specifically the Ways and Means Committee—to craft the bill.

Teller said tax reform utilizes a special procedure called reconciliation to hasten the passage of the legislation. Hastening the passage of the legislation, only half of the Senate plus the vote of the Vice President are required to pass the reform—dodging concerns from filibusters requiring more than a simple majority. 

"We are reaching out to Democrats to see what they want for tax reform," Teller said.

Shortly after Teller's lecture concluded, the Senate passed this budget reconciliation package by a 51-49 vote without needing either Democratic support or a tie broken by Vice President Mike Pence. This provided a possibility for tax cuts that would add $1.5 trillion in debt to the federal budget. The only Republican to vote against the tax reform was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Now, both houses of Congress will have opportunities to craft tax legislation.