Talking with the head lobbyist of a large corporation the other day, it occurred to me how ambivalent big business feels toward President Trump and his administration.
For many in the corporate world, free trade is virtually a religion. They view as little less than heresy Trump’s decision to drop out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership; to renegotiate, if not abandon, the North American Free Trade Agreement; and to threaten trade sanctions against China and other countries. These are the kinds of things they would fear from a liberal Democratic president, not from a president from the historically pro-business and pro-trade GOP.
They worry that much of the administration’s bluster and tough talk could lead to trade wars, or at least trade skirmishes. In the last month, the Commerce Department announced an 80 percent tariff on top of a 219 percent tariff announced in previous weeks on aircraft made by Canada’s Bombardier, charging unfair government subsidies. There are fears that Britain and Canada may reciprocate by putting tariffs on U.S.-made goods.
While corporate America was not necessarily at the vanguard of the climate-change movement, a broad swath of big companies, including oil companies, opposed dropping out of the Paris Climate Accord. Similarly, while many companies were not enthusiastic about the Affordable Care Act, they have spent substantial amounts of money coming into compliance with it.
Now they’re deeply concerned about the possible collapse of the health insurance market as a result of the president’s decision to end cost-sharing-reduction subsidies to insurers to help pay premiums for low-income policyholders, as well as an executive order opening the door for cut-rate health insurance policies that virtually invite young, healthy people to drop out of Obamacare health exchanges. A fundamental precept of insurance is the creation of a pool to spread risk. In this case, the premiums of healthy, generally younger people are used to offset the cost of people who have health problems. Siphoning off the premiums of healthy people drives up the costs of premiums for people who have health problems and need insurance.
Other corporate leaders worry about the president’s foreign policy moves and lack of a clear ideological framework. Business leaders want stability and predictability that allow them to make product decisions and investments for the future. Policy changes that come out of the blue, especially dramatic ones, wreak havoc on their planning. Trump’s policy shifts often seem random or impulsive.
But as troubled as many corporate executives are about the administration’s haphazard course, many welcome relief from what they saw as President Obama’s onerous federal regulation and overly aggressive and unreasonable enforcement of rules already on the books. According to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who served as a senior staff economist at the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush and later director of the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of government regulation over the last four years of George W. Bush’s presidency averaged $41 billion a year, compared to $109 billion a year during Obama’s administration.
A report last week by CNN showed that through Oct. 13, Trump had issued 49 executive orders, a pace that exceeded every president from Richard Nixon until Obama. Many of those orders effectively reversed Obama-era policies. An Aug. 29 study by the Pew Research Center found that Congress, by Labor Day, had passed 55 measures that had been signed into law—46 of them “substantive,” not merely ceremonial. This total tied the 110th Congress (2007-2009) for the most laws signed by a first-year president in 16 years. According to the Pew study, 14 of those 46 had the sole purpose of overturning various rules adopted by the Obama administration.
For business lobbyists, this means shifting attention somewhat away from Congress to various Cabinet departments and agencies that can provide regulatory relief or more lenient enforcement. Many lobbyists privately report considerable success and predict even greater headway in coming years.
The chaos that often surrounds the Trump administration is something that business leaders find dispiriting. The Obama administration was often hostile to or even unsympathetic to business, but despite their disagreements, corporate leaders appreciated the competent way the Democrats handled matters that affected the business community. One Washington corporate office head said that the Obama people would at least listen carefully and politely to corporate views, even if they more often than not came to opposite conclusions.
The bottom line is that the relationship between Trump and his administration and the corporate world is complicated, and not likely to get any simpler.
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"The Senate was expected to be back in session at noon, while House lawmakers were told to return to work for a 9 a.m. session. Mr. Trump on Friday had canceled plans to travel to his private resort on Palm Beach, Fla., where a celebration had been planned for Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of his first year in office."
"A stopgap spending bill stalled in the Senate Friday night, leading to a government shutdown for the first time since 2013. The continuing resolution funding agencies expired at midnight, and lawmakers were unable to spell out any path forward to keep government open. The Senate on Friday night failed to reach cloture on a four-week spending bill the House had already approved."
"The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency." Investigators have focused on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank "who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA." The solicitation or use of foreign funds is illegal in U.S. elections under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by either lobbying groups or political campaigns. The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections.
"Hundreds of new and supplemental FARA filings by U.S. lobbyists and public relations firms" have been submitted "since Special Counsel Mueller charged two Trump aides with failing to disclose their lobbying work on behalf of foreign countries. The number of first-time filings ... rose 50 percent to 102 between 2016 and 2017, an NBC News analysis found. The number of supplemental filings, which include details about campaign donations, meetings and phone calls more than doubled from 618 to 1,244 last year as lobbyists scrambled to avoid the same fate as some of Trump's associates and their business partners."