On Saturday, Donald Trump completes his first 100 days as president, a benchmark that every president since Roosevelt has used to evaluate his accomplishments. Trump himself appears to have very mixed feelings about this measurement: He tweeted that it was a "ridiculous standard" but the White House published a website praising his first-100-days accomplishments anyhow.
The business world in general seems to be fairly pleased with the new president. The stock market is still enjoying the "Trump bump," a sign that investors see his presidency as a good thing, at least so far. But has Trump been good or bad for small businesses? That really depends on what business you're in, how big your business is, who your employees and customers are, and which of his initiatives (or failed initiatives) you care about most.
Here's a closer look:
1. Tax Reform
On Wednesday (just in time for the 100 days review), the Trump administration unveiled its plan for tax reform, a key campaign promise. There's a lot in his proposal for small businesses to like. Corporate tax rates are reduced to 15 percent, including "pass-through" entities such as real estate companies, that currently pay at much higher individual rates. Strangely, given Trump's inveighing against companies that move jobs overseas, there is no tax on corporate revenues earned abroad.
Beyond that, Trump's tax proposal eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, a measure which made it difficult for the wealthy to use tax shelters to vastly reduce their taxes (it reportedly cost Trump himself $31 million), and doubles the standard deduction. That will likely simplify tax prep for many people who will no longer need to itemize deductions. It lowers capital gains tax by eliminating an additional 3.8 percent intended to fund Obamacare, and eliminates the estate tax, which might matter to you a lot if you're in a family business. In a devilishly clever twist, it also eliminates deductions for state and local taxes, effectively creating additional tax on people who didn't vote for Trump, since the highest local tax rates are in dependably blue states like New York and California.
You may be eager to see this measure passed, especially if you don't live in one of those high-local-tax areas. But it may face almost as much of a struggle as the Obamacare repeal did, especially since this proposed reform will likely increase the deficit. Stay tuned.
The swift repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (popularly called "Obamacare") was perhaps Trump's most-repeated campaign promise. You already know how that went. The American Health Care Act, the Republicans' proposed replacement had its House vote canceled when it became clear the measure would fail.
The most visible (but not only) obstacle to AHCA was the House Freedom Caucus, a loose affiliation of about three dozen conservative Representatives who blocked Trump's original bill, even after concessions were made for them. As of this writing, the Trump administration had just proposed a new, more right-leaning version of the bill, which now has Freedom Caucus support. It may still lose in the House at large, let alone the Senate, especially with moderate Republicans concerned that large numbers of their constituents could wind up losing coverage and blaming them for it.
Is Trump's failure--so far--to repeal Obamacare good news or bad news for your small business? A lot depends on the business itself. If you have fewer than 50 employees and aren't planning to hire more, then you're not affected by the rule that you must provide health insurance for them. In that case, you may appreciate ACA's support for the individual market, allowing you and your employees to purchase insurance yourselves. On the other hand, if you have 50 employees or more, and don't offer insurance or wish you didn't have to, you may be disappointed that Obamacare is still the law, since any replacement is certain to drop that rule.
3. The Supreme Court
It's certain that appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is the most consequential thing Trump has accomplished so far--it will influence U.S. law for decades to come. Gorsuch is a particularly important appointment because since the death of Chief Justice Antonin Scalia, the court had been evenly divided between right-leaning and left-leaning justices.
Gorsuch is generally seen as pro-business, although most of the cases likely to come before SCOTUS in the near future will likely center on big businesses, not small ones. The Court will review cases in the near future that could weaken both labor unions and regulatory agencies, which may be good news for your business if you're battling either of these.
Trump's vow to curb immigration was perhaps his one promise even bigger than repealing and replacing Obamacare. And although his executive order blocking legal immigrants from certain countries has stalled in federal court, and the money for construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico has stalled in Congress, the Trump administration has made some progress toward keeping immigrants out. Subtle changes to enforcement make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to seek asylum, and easier for law enforcement to bar them. In any case, even without a wall, the Trump administration can point proudly to a reduction in illegal crossings at the Mexican border, likely a result of its policies.
And then there's the H-1B visa program which allows 85,000 skilled workers into the U.S. every year. Trump has signed an executive order asking various members of his cabinet to issue a report and recommendations on reforming the program. As it stands, visas are awarded mostly by lottery, with large Indian outsourcing companies, plus large U.S. tech employers flooding the State Department with applications and taking home most of the visas.
Whether Trump's moves to reduce immigration are good news or bad news for you will likely depend on whether you see immigrants as competitors or whether you're seeking to hire them. That said, both parties have been calling for years to reform the H-1B program which seems cumbersome, impractical, and unfair in its current state.
5. International Trade
One of Trump's first acts as president was to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an international trade agreement that no one seemed to love except for Barack Obama. More recently, Trump played what appeared to be mind games with Mexico and Canada, first suggesting that the U.S. would withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), then tweeting on Wednesday that it would stay in after all, but renegotiate a better deal. He left the door open to a withdrawal later on, if the negotiations don't go well.
NAFTA has been derided for allowing American companies (especially auto manufacturers) to more easily export U.S. manufacturing to Mexican factories. Obviously, if you use Mexican manufacturing in your own business, you likely are following Trump's pronouncements on NAFTA closely. It's worth noting that the treaty would require the U.S. to remain in NAFTA for six months after announcing its departure, and that any such move would likely require approval from Congress as well. Which is to say that at least some version of NAFTA is very likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.