NDN Blog

Challenging Trump's Tariffs - An Ongoing Series

In a new series challenging Trump's tariffs, we argue that the President's trade policy is illegally justified, based upon reckless ignorance, and will cause significant harm to the US economy. Congress must step up and rescind the tariffs this fall.

Trump's Tariffs Will Do Lasting Economic Damage If Not Opposed - 8/14/18 - Trump's trade policy is enacting large costs onto average American workers that will be felt for generations. Congress must act to rescind these tariffs, before US manufacturers and farmers permanently lose out on much of global consumer demand. 

On Tariffs, Trump's Reckless Ignorance Can No Longer Go Unchallenged, 8/8/18 - To a shocking degree, Trump doesn't understand how trade and tariffs work - and they are illegal to boot. Congress should rescind them this fall.

Trump's Tariffs Are Illegal, And Should Be Rescinded, 8/3/18 - Trump’s trade war uses the false pretense of “national security” to sidestep the checks and balances of the legislative branch. Independent of their ideological position on trade, Congress must stand up to this creeping authoritarianism.

 

Trump’s Tariffs Will Do Lasting Economic Damage If Not Opposed

(This is the third essay in a series challenging Trump’s tariffs)

By: Chris Taylor

Much of Trump’s trade policy has been centered on his idea that trade wars are easy to win and will lead to quick re-negotiations of trade agreements. In his mind, therefore, the use of false justifications to sidestep Congressional oversight and a refusal to engage in real economic analysis would not be a problem, because the tariffs would be quickly and painlessly rescinded once the trade agreements were revised. Two months into the trade war, however, the opposite has come true. Our trading partners have not come to the table, but instead have imposed painful retaliatory tariffs on US industries already reeling from higher import prices. With no end in sight, Trump’s tariffs have done significant damage to the economic health of the country, and they threaten to permanently harm the competitiveness of American workers.

First, Trump’s tariffs have harmed industries that rely on imported products, predominately steel and aluminum, as inputs for their own products. Heavy manufacturing companies, such as equipment producers Caterpillar and John Deere, have reported a drop in earnings of almost 10% since the tariffs took effect, as steel is the industries’ largest raw material cost and Trump’s tariffs have increased its price by 25%. Small manufacturing businesses have felt the largest negative impact, because they don’t have the economies of scale to cushion a significant increase in costs. Lawn equipment producers in Indiana have been forced to cut 40% of their workers, nail manufacturers in Missouri have axed 15% of their workforce, and television-manufacturers in South Carolina have closed their plants. The construction industry, which employs over 7 million mostly blue collar workers, has in particular been harmed by Trump’s trade wars. Tariffs on steel and aluminum alone are estimated to cause the loss of 28,000 construction jobs as the raw materials and heavy equipment used in the construction process have become significantly more expensive. All told, the non-partisan Trade Partnership group estimates that Trump’s $22 billion in steel and aluminum tariffs alone will cause a loss of 179,000 jobs in manufacturing and services, far outpacing the estimated 33,000 job increase in steel and aluminum production.   

Second, Trump’s tariffs have led to the imposition of retaliatory tariffs on US exports by China, Canada, and the European Union. The agricultural industry, whose exports are heavily affected by Chinese demand, has been hit particularly hard, with the prices received by American farmers for soybeans falling over 16% to decade-long lows and prices for hogs and corn falling by 15%. In Iowa alone, farmers could lose $630 million as a result of losing export access to foreign markets if Trump’s tariffs stay in place. Trump himself has conceded that his tariffs are harming agriculture, which led him to provide a $12 billion bailout to struggling farmers. Even this significant amount (over $14 for every $100 of imports affected by the tariffs) isn’t enough to stop the damage from reciprocal tariffs, however. The US Chamber of Commerce estimates that bailouts to cover losses from retaliatory tariffs for all US industries would require an additional $27.2 billion in funding, of which $7.6 billion would affect automobile manufacturers and $9.6 billion other manufacturing industries. Rather than save US manufacturing, the trade wars are destroying jobs and creating bailout-dependent industries.

Finally, Trump’s tariffs are having a significant impact in an area often missed in the political discourse: business investment. For investors at home and abroad trying to invest their capital, the loss of export access for US industries and the extremely volatile policy environment in Washington has acted as a severe roadblock to investment in new factories and infrastructure. Net foreign direct investment (the level of investment coming into the country minus the level leaving the country) fell by 37% from the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018. From January to May 2018, Chinese net investment in the US was actually negative $7.8 billion, meaning that more investment funds left the US than entered, in the midst of a 90% drop in Chinese investment into the US in 2018.

It is abundantly clear that Trump’s tariffs have been damaging for the US economy: fewer jobs, struggling companies that require government bailouts, and an exodus of investment spending. This lack of economic success mirrors the difficulty that the Trump administration has had in keeping its promises of an economic “revival” for the economy as a whole. In the 18 months since Trump became President, 300,000 fewer jobs were created than in President Obama’s last 18 months in office. Even worse, real average wages declined by 0.2% from July 2017 to July 2018, weakening Trump’s claim that his $1.9 trillion tax cut would help the middle class.

In particular, President Trump was elected to office on a message of creating economic opportunities for those left behind by this new age of globalization. By most metrics, however, he has failed to meaningfully improve the living standards of these “forgotten Americans”. In fact, from July 2017 to July 2018, 35.4% of counties that voted for Trump in 2016 actually lost jobs on net, compared to only 19.2% of counties that voted for Clinton. Trump’s tariffs have further harmed the economic opportunities of these people who most supported the president. In the Rust Belt, manufacturers from the auto to the household appliance industries have lost significant consumer bases and earnings, forcing them to lay off thousands of workers, while farmers across the Midwest are seeing their profit margins turn negative as prices for their crops plummet. The hardest hit groups haven’t been white-collar workers in coastal cities, but instead manufacturing, construction, and agricultural workers in states that voted for Trump.

Furthermore, the effects of the trade wars won’t go away anytime soon, even if the tariffs are rescinded. Domestic manufacturers and farmers have seen their export consumer bases eroded by cheaper foreign competition as a result of the tariffs (for example, Brazilian and Canadian soy bean exports to China that aren’t subject to reciprocal tariffs). These consumer bases take decades to build up, and their loss means that even when the tariffs are rescinded, US workers will have less access to foreign export markets for years to come, if at all. Indeed, Chinese officials have begun to say that American agricultural exports will be fully replaced by other countries’ exports, even after the tariffs are rescinded.

The first and second essays in this series argued that Trump’s tariffs were illegal and based upon utter ignorance by the President. Beyond that, the tariffs are enacting large costs onto average American workers, particularly those that were promised better economic opportunities by Trump during the 2016 election.  Congress must act to rescind these tariffs, before US manufacturers and farmers permanently lose out on the 86% of global demand that is outside of the United States.

On tariffs, Trump’s reckless ignorance can no longer go unchallenged

(This is the second essay in a series challenging Trump’s tariffs)

Presidents make decisions of global importance that affect millions of lives. As a result, they are expected to know something of the substance of their preferred policies, or at least be reasonably well-informed by their advisors. On trade issues, Trump is the opposite of this. He is misinformed on a level unprecedented for a President on any topic, let alone one that affects over 20% of the US economy and about which he is enormously far from the expert consensus. Imagine if President Obama, when negotiating the Iran deal in 2015, continually referred to Iran as Iraq or argued that the deal was necessary to prevent Iranian conventional weapon build-up even though the treaty dealt with nuclear proliferation. This is the level of ignorance that Trump displays, in tweets and speeches, on an almost daily basis on trade issues.

First, Trump continually argues that revenue from the tariffs he has imposed will play an important role in paying down the national debt. On Sunday, he tweeted, “Because of Tariffs we will be able to start paying down large amounts of the $21 Trillion in debt that has been accumulated.”  This is a truly astounding claim. Trump has so far imposed tariffs on $85 billion of foreign imports at an average rate of 25%, meaning that the tariffs will provide $21 billion in additional revenue, or 0.1% of the country’s $15.7 trillion publically-held debt. When you subtract the $12 billion in aid to tariff-hit farmers, Trump’s tariffs this year will be able to pay off only 0.06% of the national debt. For context, this revenue is equivalent to 1/200th of the revenue lost as a result of his tax cut bill.

Second, Trump constantly argues that other countries are taking advantage of the US and our “uniquely” open trade laws, implying that other countries provide much more unfair protection to their economies than the US does. Another brazen mistruth. According to the World Bank, the European Union imposes an average tariff of 1.96% compared to one of 1.69% in the US, hardly a significant difference. Further, both Canada and Australia, countries targeted by Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, impose average tariffs lower than the US average. But even this doesn’t do Trump’s lie justice. Tariffs play only a small part in trade disputes among advanced economies today, with non-tariff barriers such as subsidies and buy-local provisions also serving to protect domestic economies. According to the Heritage Foundation, hardly an anti-Trump group, the EU and Canada both have higher (less protectionist) “trade freedom” scores than the US, when taking both tariffs and non-tariff barriers into account.

Third, Trump likes to argue that the US trade deficit means that the country is “losing” money to other countries, tweeting last month that “we are the “piggy bank” that’s being robbed” and “lost $817 billion on trade last year”. This is perhaps the most basic of trade economics mistakes and one that is taught to every Econ 101 college class. The trade deficit has little to do with competitiveness or tariff levels, but instead reflects the level of saving and investment in a country. Investment levels in the US are higher than national savings, forcing us to borrow investment funding from abroad which, in turn, is financed through foreign imports. In effect, we are running a trade deficit in return for higher levels of domestic investment. As a result, while our multilateral trade deficit is almost 2.9% of GDP, our capital account surplus (the level of investment coming into the US minus the level going out) is definitionally also 2.9% of GDP, with no “loss” of wealth by either the US or other countries.

It is clear that Trump has no clue what he is talking about when he loudly proclaims that his trade wars will pay off the national debt or that the US is losing a lump sum of wealth each year through trade deficits. But this ignorance is more sinister and worrying than commonly understood. Trump’s trade wars are not only hurting American workers and consumers, but also are corroding the American-led international order. America’s democratic allies, especially in Europe, are finding it politically destructive to support the President on anything given his abysmal standing amongst their home voters. As a result, Trump has no political capital to accomplish any of America’s foreign policy goals, from a new Iran deal to negotiating revised trade agreements. History shows us that long sustained fights over tariffs can lead to a collapse in international diplomacy and greater conflict between nations (take the Smoot-Hawley tariffs in 1930 for instance), and Trump will continue to push the US down this road as long as he chooses to live in a make-believe world on trade.

The first essay in this series argued that Congress must take action to rescind Trump’s tariffs because they are illegal. Even further, Congress must step in because Trump has shown himself to fundamentally misunderstand the issues at stake. This is not an honest error, that can be fixed by surrounding the President with better people. Trump has many advisors who care deeply about free trade, such as former National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn (who likely lost his job due to trade disagreements with the President) and current NEC Chairman Larry Kudlow. They have explained the nuances of trade deals to Trump many times and shown him that his tweet tirades about tariffs are patently untrue. And yet Trump doesn’t care. He would rather live in his own make-believe world, and create real policy from these fake beliefs, than actually care about the many genuine economic issues facing Americans. A President that cannot be bothered to learn any semblance of the truth cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of Americans, on trade and much else. When they re-enter session this fall, Congress has an obligation to put pressure on the President to rescind these tariffs that are both illegal and wreaking havoc on the world America created.  

Trump's Immigration Strategy Is Failing, and He is Growing Desperate - New on NBC News

NBC News just published Simon’s latest essay, Trump's brand is his xenophobic immigration policy. That's why he'll go to any lengths to enact it. It argues that Trump's separation of kids at the border is the result of a political crisis for his administration, rather than any real immigration crisis on the ground. As Trump's immigration policies continue to fail in the face of legal roadblocks and public outrage, expect even more outrageous policies from the administration. Here's an excerpt from the piece:

"The “immigration crisis” the nation now faces is far more a political crisis than a governing one. The hard truth is that there a growing sense that the president’s immigration strategy has failed, and he, like a petulant child, is now lashing out, both threatening to, and taking, extreme measures. Congress has failed to give him his wall and even the Republicans in the Senate rejected the immigration changes he wanted to make. The courts severely scaled back his Muslim ban, blocked his efforts to deport Dreamers and defund “sanctuary cities” and are now forcing him to reunite the kids separated from their parents. Requirements for long-settled immigrants without documentation to have their day in court is preventing him from mass deporting millions, and there is little evidence that millions of undocumented immigrants are “self-deporting” due to the new, far-harsher immigration regime.

But it is what has happened on the border in the past year which poses the greatest political threat to Trump. At the core of his immigration strategy is an effort to create a deep climate of fear through aggressive immigration enforcement. That climate, he and his advisers thought, would encourage undocumented immigrants here in the country to voluntarily leave (“self-deport,” in the parlance) saving the government a great deal of money and effort, and deter new arrivals from coming. But then, starting in the summer of 2017, people started coming to the border in higher numbers again. By December, monthly apprehensions at the border were almost three times what they were in April. Even though all that was really happening was a reversion to the normal monthly flows, for Trump these increases meant he could no longer say this policies were deterring people from coming. The very human desire for a better life was trumping Trump’s policy of fear. And that was a crisis indeed for the president."

Trump's Tariffs Are Illegal, And Should Be Rescinded

In March, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the EU, Canada, and Mexico, all without Congressional authorization. Trump was able to avoid such legislative oversight by invoking the National Security exemption within the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allows the President to unilaterally impose tariffs if imports are “in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten or impair national security.” For the tariffs to be legal under US law then, they have to satisfy the criteria that they are protecting national security. Unfortunately for Trump, this justification is incredibly difficult to believe, to the point of absurdity.

First, the tariffs are levied on close allies, most of whom are obligated by treaty to defend the United States in times of military conflict, and who would clearly be willing to continue trading with the US if the country’s national security was at risk. Canadian and European soldiers are currently fighting alongside Americans in Iraq, Syria, Mali, and Afghanistan, making the idea that they represent security threats to the US outlandish.

Second, even Trump’s Department of Defense doesn’t believe the tariffs are necessary for national security. When asked earlier in the year, Defense Secretary James Mattis explained that “the U.S. military requirements for steel and aluminum each represent only about 3% of U.S. production. Therefore, DoD does not believe that the findings in the reports impact the ability of DoD programs to acquire the steel or aluminum necessary to meet national defense requirements.” Trump himself justified the tariffs on grounds irrelevant to national security, tweeting that the tariffs “are in response to [Canadian tariffs] of 270% on dairy!”

Third, in trade “talks” with the EU, Trump said he was willing to reduce tariffs on EU goods (and has since put a halt to their implementation) if the EU also agreed to reduce their trade barriers on agricultural products and LNG. These concessions are not related to national security, nor do they affect the steel and aluminum industries, and yet Trump is willing to remove tariffs that are supposedly “critical” to US national security to gain them. It’s hard to see how important the tariffs actually are to our security if they are only being used as a bargaining chip for completely unrelated trade efforts.

Finally, and most strikingly, the tariffs would actually do a poor job of defending US national security if steel and aluminum imports were a legitimate national security threat. While the tariffs theoretically would increase domestic production if imports were suddenly cut off, the key raw materials necessary for production (for example, bauxite for aluminum) are almost entirely imported and are unaffected by Trump’s tariffs. If, somehow, NATO turned on the US, they simply could embargo bauxite (of which America’s entire supply is imported) and effectively shut down US aluminum production, regardless of the tariffs currently imposed.

It is abundantly clear that the tariffs aren’t justified on national security grounds, but instead are a way to subvert Congress’ oversight role to achieve Trump’s domestic political goal of protection for favored industries. This is a blatant abuse of executive power that has real consequences for Americans. Trade policy is complex and affects nearly everyone in the country, and as a result the country’s representatives must have a say in whether to undertake such policies. Furthermore, this type of trade policy would effectively destroy the rules-based WTO system if adopted globally. If Trump can make up reasons to enact trade barriers against foreign imports at will, other countries will do the same against US exports, reducing US wages and jobs in the very manufacturing industries Trump is trying to protect.

More nefariously, Trump’s trade war ignores existing law to get around the checks and balances of the legislative branch. If the precedent is set that Trump can make up national security “emergencies” to justify his preferred policies, there is no telling where it would end. What is to stop Trump from creating another false emergency, and using it as he sees fit? Leaders on both sides of the aisle, regardless of their ideological position on the economics of trade, must stand up to Trump’s creeping authoritarianism and take back the oversight role for which Congress was created.

After Helsinki, Focus on Protecting US Elections This Fall

NBC News.com has just published Simon’s latest essay, Trump wants to be seen as strong on Putin post-Helsinki. Focusing on election reforms is a start. It looks at the sophisticated Russian attacks on our elections and makes recommendations for what Congress and the Administration can do right now to ensure what happened in 2016 doesn’t happen again in 2018. Here's an excerpt from the piece:

"In what has been a monstrous dereliction of duty by the president and his party, America does not have a clear plan for how to prevent a repeat of Russia’s 2016 active measures campaign this year. Two sensible, bipartisan bills to protect our elections from future interference, the Secure Elections Act and DETER Act, have never been brought up for a vote by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and no election protection legislation has been produced by House Republicans. There is no single person in charge of protecting our elections and domestic discourse. The cyber coordinator position in the White House has been eliminated. The Secretary of Homeland Security publicly broke from the rest of the U.S. intelligence community in May and said that she does not believe that Russia acted on behalf of a particular political candidate or party in 2016 and, last weekend, she also downplayed the Russian threat to our elections a day after the Director of National Intelligence issued a dramatic warning about Russia’s ongoing measures in the U.S.

All of this leaves America unacceptably exposed this fall. While there isn’t enough time for big changes, Congress should pass and the president should sign at least one of the many election protection bills which have been introduced this year. It will be an indicator to the public and to the world the U.S. is taking all of this seriously. Additionally, the president should appoint an elections protection coordinator to oversee our efforts to prevent Russia from striking again. This person should be in the White House and have enough authority to convene all relevant U.S. government stakeholders. Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., proposed such a move earlier this week, and it should be implemented immediately."

Can Trump Keep America Safe?

The Trump Presidency raises new questions, daily.  But one that should be increasingly on our minds is can this volatile and inexperienced President keep America safe? Consider the record.  Thousands died due to government inaction in Puerto Rico.  A challenging situation on the border has been grossly mismanaged, and has now become a full blown regional moral and political crisis.  The President continues to encourage right wing extremism in the US, even at a time when that movement has become far more violent. We are in public and acrimonious disputes with neighbors, Mexico and Canada, and our NATO allies.  The North Korea talks have broken down.   All of this is making the American people less safe, here at home and from threats abroad.

But it is the ongoing threat of Russia’s interference in our domestic affairs which should be of the greatest concern to the American people.  On Friday, the head intelligence official of the American government, Dan Coats, said of Russia’s cyber-interference: “The warning lights are blinking red again….Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”  On Saturday, DHS Secretary Nielsen said U.S. intelligence officials are seeing “persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people.”  Given the gravity of what happened in 2016, shouldn’t it be clear to all of us that yes in fact the President was leading a vigorous effort to protect our nation from similar attacks or even worse?

And yet, despite these warnings, America can neither trust their President is looking out for us or has assembled a team responsible for keeping America safe.  The new National Security Advisor dismantled the cyber security coordinating unit in the White House.  There is no clear person in charge of these matters for the US government, and in a hearing just last week, a senior DHS official admitted that the mechanisms to allow DHS, the FBI and others to coordinate are still insufficient.  And remarkably, the President, on the eve of his meeting with the man responsible for these dangerous threats to America, blamed his predecessors and Robert Mueller for causing the worsening relations between the US and Russia, and not the malevolent dictator and the man who directed the 2016 attack against America, Vladimir Putin.

With Trump now we have two issues regarding our security.  First is competence.   For a man who spends so much time in an alternative world, can he be trusted to assess a threat properly and respond appropriately?  Both the inadequate response to the Puerto Rican crisis and the historic mismanagement of the border crisis suggest not.  But then there is the much more challenging question – does the President actually want to protect America from foreign threats?  Can we count on him to be there for us in a time of need? And on this one I think we have to admit we just aren’t sure.   His response to Russian aggression raises questions frankly about where his ultimate loyalties lie.  A true patriot would have mobilized both US institutions and those abroad to ensure Russia could never replicate the 2016 attack.  Bur rather than doing this, the President has not only denied the attacks ever took place, but he has weakened the international and domestic institutions (NATO, EU, FBI, DHS) needed to challenge Russia in the coming years.  He continued those denials today, in his disastrous joint press conference with President Putin.   Given the opportunity to challenge Putin to stop his interference efforts in the US, the President incomprehensibly took a pass.

So here we are.  It is a sad and dark time in America.   It sure appears that we cannot count on President Trump to keep us safe.  We all wish it were otherwise. 

This is a topic well worth debating in the upcoming elections this fall. 

PS - On Monday, July 16th, the same day our President bowed to Russia's Putin, the Treasury Department announced it was no longer requiring disclosures on contributions given to 501 c (4) organizations.  The practical impact of that is to enable foreign governments and nationals to now give unlimited sums to certain "dark" American political organizations without anyone knowing.  It is an unimaginable surrender of our sovereignity, and will allow unfettered and secret foreign involvement in US politcs - all aiding one side of course. 

Things Are Better Under Trump? Data Suggests Not

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.  And be sure to read our companion piece, "Can Trump Keep America Safe?"

We are about at that time in the Trump Presidency where one can begin to discern the impact of his agenda on the nation. We’ve had 17 months of Trumpism now — regulatory reform, immigration restrictionism, big new tax and fiscal strategy, unraveling of the ACA, tariffs and trade disruption — how is it all working out? Let’s take a look at some of the early data:

Deficits and Debt — According to a recent CBO report, Trump’s tax and fiscal policies will add $1.9 trillion to the deficit over the next 11 years. The US will be running $1 trillion annual deficits by 2020, and will now officially be among the most indebted nations in the world no matter how you measure it.

In addition to advancing the very un-conservative notion of spending money one doesn’t have, this new fiscal strategy has brought an era of low interest rates and cheap capital to an end (federal funds rate up 50% from a year ago). Not only will rising interests rates put what is essentially a tax on all consumers and businesses as the cost of simple things like credit card debt, auto and home loans, business loans rise, but it will cost Americans trillions of dollars in increased debt service over time. Our indebtedness also chips away at our sovereignty, as it gives the nations who loan us money — China for example — have a bit more ability to influence our nation’s future course. This explosion of debt makes every American worse off.

Slower Job Growth — While the unemployment rate has dropped under President Trump, the economy is producing fewer jobs than it did in the last few years of Obama’s Presidency. 217,000 jobs were created per month in Obama’s second term. Through May of this year quarter of this year it has been 185,000 under Trump. That is a net difference of 384,000 a year and over 3m over 8 years — no small thing.

As for GDP growth, in Obama’s 2nd term it averaged 2.2% a year. For Trump it was 2.3% in 2017, and 2.2% in q1 this year. No meaningful gains here either.

Declining Wages — The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ June Report found real average wages for non-supervisory workers dropped from May 2017 to May 2018, going from $9.25 per hour to $9.24. While there are many ways to look at this data, there just isn’t any evidence that the Trump Presidency or his tax cut has substantially improved the lot of working people in the US. New June numbers show no change in this downward trend.

Wages for most workers have actually begin to decline.

Rising Interest Rates and Gas Prices — Trump’s tax bill brought the end of low interest rates to an end, which will, as we discussed, raise the cost of just about everything — car, home and student loans, credit cards, business loans — which will take money out of the pockets of every day people. For many these higher costs will almost certainly wipe out any gains received from the tax cut.

Since early 2017 the price of a gallon of gas at the pump has increased by about 30%, with most of those gains coming in just the last few months. Like rising interest rates, higher gas prices raise the cost of just about everything in American society, and takes money out of the pockets of regular folks. These increased costs are likely to impact how much money Americans can spend on other things like groceries and eating out, summer camps and day care, vacations, car and home purchases, transportation to and from work, which will adversely affect tens of millions of people employed in these sectors. Not only will rising energy costs draw us closer to a recession, they dampen labor mobility, something that will make it harder for companies to hire the workers they need to grow.

Rising Levels of Uninsured, Premium Increases — One of the great policy success stories of the past several generations has been the recent rapid reduction of those without health insurance. Using data from Gallup, the insured rate dropped from 18.0 in late 2013 to just 10.9 at the time of the 2016 election. Estimates are that the ACA covered 25m or so of those gaining insurance in just a few years — a remarkable achievement.

Due to a year of sustained political and regulatory attack on the ACA by the President and his GOP brethren, the uninsured rate snapped back to a rate of 12.2% at the end of 2017, a 12% gain — which translates into 3–4 million people. And as Gallup reports, 2017 was the first year since 2013 no individual state saw their uninsured rate decline. And these increases come at a time when the unemployment rate continued to drop and millions of people found employment. Hard to believe that our President has sought this dispiriting outcome on purpose, as a matter of policy; particularly when he explicitly promised to offer a plan which covered everyone and lowered premiums during his 2016 campaign.

For those remaining in a battered ACA, premiums are going to rise dramatically over the next few years. And just in the last few weeks the Trump Administration came out for eliminating the pre-existing condition ban — something that would impact hundreds of millions of Americans.

Stock Market Made Modest Gains, Now Flat — What is perhaps the most extraordinary economic development of the Trump era, the Dow has gained no ground since Trump’s tax cuts were passed late last year. The Dow closed at 24,978 on December 23rd , the first full day after the tax cuts were signed by the President, and began today at 24,252. That the cocktail of huge corporate and high net worth rate cuts, hundreds of billions of newly repatriated assets and hundreds of billions of stock buy backs haven’t produced gains in the stock market is a shocking development, particularly given that the 2017 market gains were modest by historical standards.

Impact of Restrictionist Immigration Policies, White Nationalism — This one is a bit more subjective than the other areas but the President’s all-out assault on undocumented immigrants, and immigrants more broadly, is making the lives of tens of millions living here in the US far worse than it was. There are 11m undocumented immigrants in the US; 13m green card holders (legal permanent residents); 330,000 holders of a temporary protected status visa who have been told to go home; 30 million of Mexican descent, and over 50m Hispanics overall. You pick the number. Whatever it is there are tens of millions of people living and working in the US today who have either been told to leave by the US government or feel far less welcome in their adopted nation. They are not better off today under Donald Trump.

What makes these policies not just harmful to the workers and families directly affected, they are also very bad for the US economy overall. The US is currently at full employment, and labor shortages are becoming more commonplace across the country. Removing millions of current immigrant workers in the coming years would put pressure on US companies to either 1) replace the assimilated immigrant workers we now have with un-assimilated ones — something very costly and complicated 2) grow jobs in countries outside the US where labor is more abundant. As a matter of economic policy, the President’s immigration strategy is nuts, something the Chamber of Commerce echoed in a recent letter to Congress.

Conclusion — So, are we better off under Trump? Job growth is slower. Wages are down. Rising gas prices and interest rates are eating into the incomes (and very modest tax benefits) of everyday people. The stock market had a good 2017 but is down in 2018. Millions are newly without health insurance, and premiums are rising for millions more. The skyrocketing deficit is endangering the US economy, and leaves us little to invest in infrastructure or to combat a future recession. For tens of millions of immigrants, their lives are clearly much much worse. And the President’s trade and tariff agenda is likely to leave American businesses and workers worse off.

So 17 months in Trump’s Presidency it is not clear things are better, and it a strong case can be made that things are worse. Almost nothing the President promised — rising wages, stronger growth, a balanced budget, universal health care and lower premiums, a tax plan that would cause him to pay higher taxes — has come about. It remains to be seen whether the very modest benefits many Americans are receiving from the President’s tax cut will be seen by voters as a net positive given rising costs, skyrocketing deficits and everything else — this remains a big unknown heading into the fall but many polls now suggest the Republicans are losing this one (and for good reason).

Tax Bill 6 Points Net Negative

This piece suggests that the battle over competing economic narratives — “economy was good, worse now” vs “economy was bad/okay/carnage and everything is better now” — will be a hotly contested one this summer and fall. Current polls suggest Democrats have work to do to win this fight; but the data also suggests the battle is winnable if waged. No reason given the disappointing performance of this economy, or the strong economic performance of both the Clinton and Obama Presidencies, that the GOP should be leading Democrats on the economy. But you can’t win battles if you don’t fight ’em, and this one should be central to the Democrats’ battle plan this election year.

Update - Chris Murphy moving on, SR assistant position open

Dear Friends,

It is with both great regret and enormous gratitude that I report today that Chris Murphy, my long-time assistant here at NDN, is moving on. He will be joining our good friends at Mercury LLC in the coming weeks, focusing on public affairs and media relations projects. Chris has been a terrific partner over these past few years. He is hard working, focused, kind to all and very effective. He will be hard to replace, but that process begins today.

If you know of a good candidate for the position please have them email Chris right away at cmurphy@ndn.org. We will be making first cuts this Friday. The email to him should include a resume, cover note and list of references. We shoot for a person one step passed entry level for this position, for it requires a significant degree of ball juggling and complexity. It has proven to be a great stepping stone for many ambitious young center-lefties, so please send us qualified candidates today.

Please thank Chris for his time served here. I know many of you got to know him well, and appreciated how easy it was to work with worth him. Please help me give him a proper send off, but as you know, like many assistants before, they never stop being part of this spirited community.

Best, Simon

Assistant to the President, NDN

The Assistant to the President is responsible for managing President Simon Rosenberg and the office's day-to-day operations. This includes managing the President's schedule; executing weekly emails including NDN's newsletter, member updates, and other releases via NGP-Van; handling administrative tasks (such as event management, meeting arrangements, scanning documents, and other errands); researching legislation or other policy information for the President's use. In this role, you will also work closely with other NDN members' offices and Washington stakeholders.

This position allows for growth as well as special projects assigned by the President. Additional responsibilities consist of handling office communications, including answering the main NDN phone-line, processing invoices, assisting with travel logistics, event coordination, and keeping track of written correspondence, and other duties as assigned.

Democrats Need To Have A Big Conversation About Trade

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

There is little doubt that Democrats are in the early stages of what will be a very intense debate about how to best lead the nation after Trump’s disappointing Presidency. As I wrote in a recent NBC News column, one of the most important areas Democrats will have to air out is the best way to re-stitch America back into the global, rules-based order our nation — and our Party — imagined and built after WWII. Given America’s plummeting standing around the world, and the utter contempt Trump has shown for so many nations, allies and institutions of this rules-based system both here and abroad, this will be no easy thing. It may perhaps the toughest challenge our next President, and our emerging leaders of both parties, will face in the coming years.

For Democratic Presidential candidates next year, and perhaps a Democratic Speaker and/or Senate majority leader too, one could imagine that calling for a return to the Paris climate accord or the Iran nuclear deal will be relatively easy matters. But one can also imagine calls for returning America to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or putting NAFTA back together if wrecked by Trump in the days ahead, will be much harder. Democrats are going to have to be very careful here, for a refusal to bolster and support the global trading system that Trump has weakened by the next American President could not just cause irreparable harm to this vital instrument of America’s global power and prosperity, but to the broader rules-based system itself.

For as one sees in both TPP and NAFTA, for example, trade agreements are extensions of the rules-based system, and are as much geopolitics as they are economic arrangements. NAFTA created a global economic and political powerhouse known as North America, and TPP was intended to create a regional counterweight to China’s growing influence and cemented America’s leadership in the Pacific years to come. TPP also contained a comprehensive updating of rules involving the Internet and the cyberspace, something that will remain a major priority for American policy makers for years to come, particularly after the Russian attack on our democracy in 2016. My basic point here is the line between geopolitics, foreign policy and trade policy are far more blurred than bright, and a retreat to a facile protectionism by the next President would not just weaken a global system in need of support it would make America’s return to the global stage far less effective than is in our national interest.

For Democrats there is another reason to tread carefully here — Democratic voters are overwhelmingly supportive of free trade. Consider these three graphs from recent Pew Research polling:

Positive views of free trade agreements rebound to pre-2016 levels

67% of Democrats believe free trade is a good thing. 62% oppose tariffs. 72% say NAFTA is a good thing for the US. These findings suggest that protectionism simply isn’t going to play well in a Democratic Presidential primary next year. The case that globalization was wrecked the American economy will be a particularly tough sell in the early 2020 states of Iowa and New Hampshire, each of which are experiencing some of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation and in their history — 2.8% and 2.6% respectively. According to a Pew study done at the height of the Democratic primary in March of 2016, even 55% of Bernie Sanders supporters said that “trade is a good thing,” not all that different from those who supported Hillary Clinton at the time.

There are many explanations for this data I think it has to do with the nature of the Democratic coalition these days. Democrats have large numbers of young people who grew up in a globalized world and have come to expect it; and immigrants or those closely connected to recent immigrant experiences, who often want America to stay connected to the big world out there. The graph below from Pew’s 2017 version of their new report shows the demographic breakdowns of the trade good/bad question — a breakdown that would be familiar to anyone who has studied the recent Brexit vote.

Look, trade is a tough issue. But those Democrats seeking to lead us in the years ahead have to give a great deal of thought about how to approach the trade conversation. Our voters are not with the protectionists, the economy was never as bad as Trump proclaimed, and restoring America’s leadership of — or at least constructive participation in — a global system imagined and built by our party over 70 years ago will be among our most important jobs in the coming years. The answer to Trump isn’t a different version of American retreat; it is a redefining and reassertion of American leadership on the global stage for a new century with new and complex challenges. Democrats have risen to this challenge before, and I am hopeful that we will do so again.

Finally, there is also a cold hard truth here — the global system we built will also continue in some form without us. Europe and Iran appear close to salvaging the Iran Deal, TPP was finalized without the US and without some of our hard negotiated wins. We can both dive into the world and try to lead it, or the nations of the world will end up dictating terms — terms guaranteed to be less favorable — to the US. Retreat is a guarantor of national decline, loss of influence and prosperity. It would be folly to choose that path.

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