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Manhattan Institute

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Top Takeaways from President Trump's First State of the Union Address

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Top Takeaways from President Trump's First State of the Union Address

January 31, 2018
Urban PolicyOther
EconomicsOther
Legal ReformOther

On January 30, Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address as the 45th President of the United States. Manhattan Institute scholars react to some of the policy proposals advanced in the speech.

Taxes, Budget

Brian Riedl | Senior Fellow

"It would have been political malpractice not to take a victory lap celebrating a 4.1 percent unemployment rate and a soaring stock market — regardless of the President's contributions to that growth. President Trump made the right decision to immediately highlight the specifics of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Critics have sprayed a firehose of misinformation claiming that broad-based tax increases are tax cuts only for the rich. His aggressive listing of the law's benefits should increase its popularity.

The President's anti-trade agenda has been more talk than action thus far. Most economists hope it stays that way, as trade remains a major engine of national prosperity. It is not surprising that President Trump made no mention of budget deficits heading back towards $1 trillion. However, these deficits - driven mostly by escalating Social Security and Medicare costs - threaten to crowd out almost all other federal priorities. They must be addressed, whether politicians want to or not."

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Infrastructure

Aaron Renn | Senior Fellow

"President Trump is right to highlight the need to invest in America's infrastructure, and also to address the excessive length of time it takes for infrastructure projects to clear the federal regulatory review process. The challenge will be to get the details right. In particular, any infrastructure plan should be focused on maintenance - fixing the infrastructure we already have - much more than building new infrastructure."

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Regulations

James R. Copland | Senior Fellow and Director, Legal Policy

"In his State of the Union address, President Trump took credit for his administration's remarkable record in reducing federal regulations — more regulations repealed in one year than in any previous year in the history of the Republic.

The administration's success, however, does not mean that Congress need not act. The inefficient regulations this administration has repealed could be reinstated the next time the White House changes hands.

What should Congress do? For starters, it needs to insist that courts do their jobs and enforce Congress's words in federal statutes, rather than deferring to the interpretations of unelected bureaucrats. And Congress needs to require that it votes on any crimes that possibly send Americans to prison, rather than delegating criminal lawmaking authority to the executive branch."

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Mark P. Mills | Senior Fellow

Over-regulation has been an invisible anchor on economic growth. The past decade has seen a doubling in the total number of federal regulators and total federal budget devoted to regulating. Ten years ago there were no crises extant in the land justifying such a staggering expansion of the regulatory state. The federal regulatory bureaucracy grew more in a decade than it did over the prior 30 years. Today the average manufacturing firm spends, per employee, more than twice as much on regulations as it does on taxes. While appropriate safety regulations, for example, are important, over-regulation is toxic and invisibly corrodes innovation while constraining business and job expansion.

The Trump Administration’s early action in reversing the previous administration’s frenzy of last-minute regulations was a good start. But more dramatic and permanent Congressional reform is needed to get the American economy into high gear.

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Criminal Justice

Heather Mac Donald | Thomas W. Smith Fellow

"The president called for reforming prisons to help inmates get a second chance at life after their release. That is a wiser approach to criminal justice reform than attacking “mass incarceration,” a duplicitous term that ignores two crucial facts: first, that every prisoner is charged and sentenced individually through the due process of the law, and second, that the only criminals who end up in prison either have very long records or have committed very serious crimes. Incarceration played a crucial role in the twenty year crime drop from the early 1990s through the mid-2010s. But while the incarceration build-up was both procedurally fair and necessary, more can be done to try to help ex-cons become productive citizens. The main focus should be on having every prisoner work at a paying job while incarcerated that will give him usable skills on the outside. Universal work for inmates is costly and logistically difficult, especially with high-security prisoners; unions have fought prison labor to avoid competition. But it is a challenge worth taking on to try to break the cycle of recidivism."

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Immigration

Howard Husock | VP of Research & Publications

"The President’s plan is very similar to a proposal that moderate Democrats signed on to in 2009. Although it didn’t include a border wall, the group’s plan did propose doubling down on the electronic E-Verify system and pushing to limit chain migration before the term had even made it into the political discussion. It’s nearly impossible to imagine prominent Democrats endorsing such plans today; compromise with the Trump Administration doesn’t appear to be on the table even though it would go a long way toward defusing immigration policy controversy.  Clearly, $25 billion for a wall would make it harder even for willing Democrats to accept Trump’s concessions on “dreamers”.  But how about an “electronic wall”? Let Trump save face — and negotiations actually get to yes."

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Health Policy

Chris Pope | Senior Fellow

"The few references to healthcare in the State of the Union address reflect the limits of political feasibility at a time of a single-seat Republican Senate majority.  There is little appetite for major Medicaid reform in an election year, and so this program (which accounted for the bulk of the Affordable Care Act's spending) was entirely unmentioned.  Yet, the President rightly emphasized the importance of repealing the ACA's mandate to allowing individuals to purchase more affordable insurance options.  The extended remarks relating to competition, innovation, and prices for drugs also demonstrate the importance of the regulatory initiatives led by Alex Azar and Scott Gottlieb over the next couple of years."

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Photo by Win McNamee / Getty Images
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