When you look at what Donald Trump has actually accomplished in the first 100 days of his presidency when it comes to adding American jobs, stimulating the economy and fixing the tax system, a four-word phrase comes to mind: big hat, no cattle.
He’s proposing a huge corporate tax cut that would torture budget-scoring rules so much that we could almost hear them scream. But I suspect that the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation’s scrupulously honest calculations will cause Trump the same kind of trouble the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Trump-backed health-care bill did.
Trump has talked and tweeted a great game, but substance is largely lacking. Other than reversing some of President Barack Obama’s executive orders that Trump claims were bad for the economy and job creation, he hasn’t really done very much on the employment and economic fronts.
Consumer confidence has risen, but it’s not clear what impact, if any, it will have on the economy. Or how long that optimism will last.
Meanwhile, several of Trump’s big economic promises — eliminating the Import-Export Bank because it supposedly promotes crony capitalism, labeling China a currency manipulator, quickly unveiling a trillion-dollar infrastructure program — have not been fulfilled. He excoriated the Federal Reserve’s low-interest-rate regimen during the campaign, but now he likes it.
As someone who’s written about Trump on and off since the 1980s, I am surprised by none of this. He’s always been great at talking but not so great at doing. He routinely boasted about his New Jersey casinos — but they ultimately went through five Chapter 11 bankruptcies under his leadership. He touted his purchase of New York City’s Plaza Hotel, which also went into bankruptcy. He routinely exaggerated the floor count in some of his high-rise buildings.
But despite his dodgy history, I had some hope that as a political outsider who seemed to understand the frustrations of alienated working-class voters, Trump might be able to deploy unconventional policies that would help our country.
So I was happy to see him excoriate United Technologies’ Carrier division for moving jobs out of the United States, and I hoped that he would intimidate and shame other big companies into keeping jobs here.
Alas, it looks like Carrier was a one-time deal, saving about 700 jobs for a while but having no impact on several thousand other Carrier jobs that moved offshore.
Trump has since boasted about various companies that announced plans to create U.S. jobs. But as my Washington Post colleagues have frequently noted, most, if not all, of U.S. hiring and expansion plans for which Trump has claimed credit were already in the works or had nothing to do with him.
Meanwhile, thousands of cashiers, the second-largest job category according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are disappearing without Trump doing or saying a thing about it that I can see. Ditto for retail clerks, the biggest job category, as conventional retailers reel under pressure from Amazon.com and other online merchants. (Disclosure: Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Cashiers and retail clerks are low-paying jobs, according to BLS statistics. And, of course, Trump’s core support came from low-income, working-class voters. But he hasn’t rallied support for cashiers and clerks, which are classic entry-level and keep-the-family-fed jobs.
I had hoped that Trump would fix Obamacare, which is hideously complicated and has accelerated the unfortunate trend of hospitals and doctors combining into giant health-care colossi.
In addition, Obamacare added millions of new patients to health-care rolls without expanding the supply of doctors and nurses to keep pace with an expanded patient population. That’s a problem, too.
But when I examined the Trump-backed American Health Care Act, I didn’t see something designed to make the system simpler or train more health-care professionals or slow health-care’s creeping giganticism.
Rather, I saw a proposed tax cut on high-income people who are paying tax surcharges to help lower-income people get Obamacare coverage. Those cuts and cuts in other Obamacare-related taxes would have been paid for by trimming subsidies and benefits to Obamacare recipients and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, leaving 24 million people without health insurance.
Trump is proposing to repeal the estate tax, which, according to the Tax Policy Center, affects only about 1 in 500 estates. (The amount exempted from that tax is $5.49 million for a single person and $10.98 million for a married couple.) But a lot more than 0.2 percent of Trump’s family members, appointees and prominent backers would benefit from not having to deal with estate tax issues.
He’s also proposing to sharply cut top rates on investment income and “earned income” such as salaries and fees.
However, whatever income tax cuts he may propose for the lower brackets would likely have little impact on the total tax paid by working-class people. That’s because an amazing 89 percent of households pay more Social Security and Medicare tax than federal income tax, according to Cherrie Bucknor of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who researched this at my request. (Her calculations include the employer’s half of Medicare and Social Security, which most economists say effectively comes out of employees’ pockets.)
Just as I was hoping that Trump might do something unconventional for his supporters in endangered cashier and retail clerk jobs, I hoped he’d help his base by doing something imaginative on the tax front.
For example, he could propose to eliminate the Social Security tax on the first $25,000 of income and move the cap up to $160,000 or so from the current $127,200. That would lower the tax burden on millions of low- and middle-income households. But there’s no sign of that or anything like it on the horizon.
It may seem silly to judge a presidency on the first 100 days of a 1,461-day term. But the first-100-days game is played by lots of people, including Trump, who boasted recently that no administration had accomplished more in its first 90 days than his. My Post colleague Glenn Kessler gave that claim four Pinocchios.
I have no doubt that Trump and his crew will boast that he did more in his first 100 days to help jobs and the economy than any president in history, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But, like many of the things Trump says, it won’t be true.