The most jagged edges of President Donald Trump’s day-to-day rhetoric may be sanded at the edges Tuesday night. No speech is more carefully prepared than the State of the Union.
Even so, he’s prone to exaggeration and sometimes fiction. If his past speeches to Congress are prologue, buyer beware.
A look at some of the subjects likely to come up in the speech.
The best economy ever, isn’t. The biggest tax cuts ever, aren’t. The blue-collar “boom” that Trump has recently taken to talking about is a mixed bag.
In essence, any president would have things to crow about from this time of low unemployment, stock market records and the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. But Trump comes at the numbers and complexities of the economy with a crowbar.
By definition — and that math again — it is only the longest expansion because it has bridged two presidents. Growth that started with the end of the recession in Barack Obama’s first term continued in his second term and now under Trump. Do not expect Trump to give a nod to Obama on Tuesday night.
The longest expansion does not mean the best one. The numbers tell the broad story.
Growth last year was 2.3 percent, far under a plausible, if challenging, White House benchmark of 3 percent. Trump has never achieved annual growth of 3 percent despite promising at times that he’d grow the economy by 4 percent a year, if not more. “I think you can go to 5 percent or 6 percent,” he said in a 2016 debate, a prediction thoroughly regarded as impossible at the time.
Trump has held out his tax cut — which actually was smaller than President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 reduction — as a boon to the economy. While most economists credit it with putting extra money in peoples’ pockets and fueling more consumer spending, it hasn’t spurred the boom in corporate investment in new equipment that the White House said it would. Its impact may already be fading.
Meantime Trump points to a new, preliminary trade pact with China and a revamped agreement with Canada and Mexico as giving American workers a leg up in international trade. But independent economists forecast the North American agreement will boost growth and hiring by a tiny amount and say the China trade deal will help mostly by reducing the uncertainty the president’s own trade war helped create.
Trump plays a rather ordinary fact for cheers at his rallies — more Americans are working than ever before. That’s mainly because there are ever more Americans: Call it people inflation.
Environment and deregulation
It’s been a big year for cutting regulations and more is coming.
One of Trump’s biggest boasts is his effort to “lift the burden” of environmental “overregulation” to cut costs, drive economic growth and benefit the everyday consumer, as he describes it. But he typically neglects the broader consequences to public health and misrepresents what he’s doing.
On one of his most far-reaching environmental rollbacks, slashing at federal protections for the nation’s creeks, gullies and wetlands, for instance, Trump likes to surround himself with farmers to say the goal is all about easing Obama administration rules that make it harder for farmers to work their fields.
Statistically at least, that’s not so. The federal government’s own analysis shows that it’s mainly real-estate developers, builders and other non-farm industries — including oil and gas and mining — seeking federal permits allowing work that will contaminate or dry up waterways and wetlands. Of the more than 3,000 such permits that industries take out each year that require some sort of mitigation for impacting federally protected water bodies, farmers typically account for just eight of the permits, recent federal data shows. Trump is also moving to roll back emissions and mileage standards for new cars and light trucks, toughened by Obama as one of his main efforts to slow climate change. Trump asserts that weaker standards will make cars both cheaper and safer. But his own Scientific Advisory Board called his claims on the mileage rollbacks “implausible.”
It was a striking Trump claim on Twitter last month: He was “the person who saved preexisting conditions in your health care.”
Nowhere close. And he’s likely to keep repeating it.
People with preexisting medical problems have health insurance protections because of Obama’s health law, which Trump is trying to dismantle.
Trump and Republican lawmakers have vowed to protect coverage for people with medical problems, but at the same time his administration is supporting a lawsuit to strike down Obama’s entire law as unconstitutional. “Obamacare” codified protections against insurance discrimination based on a person’s medical history.
In his speech to Congress last year, Trump said insurance protections for preexisting conditions and lower drug prices should be the “next major priority” for Congress and him. The first mission is not accomplished. There’s been some progress on the second.
Prescription drug prices dropped 1 percent in 2018, according to nonpartisan economic experts at U.S. Health and Human Services. That was the first such decline in 45 years, driven by generic drugs. Prices continued to rise for brand-name drugs, although at a more moderate pace.
As a candidate, Trump promised to “negotiate like crazy” over drug prices, but he’s slamming a Democratic bill passed by the House that would authorize Medicare to do just that. Instead he supports a bipartisan Senate bill to cut costs for seniors and restrain price increases, but it’s unclear that enough Republican senators are willing to vote for it.