President Donald Trump did not talk about farmers or rural America directly in his first State of the Union speech, but his themes regarding infrastructure, taxes, immigration and trade all will resonate in varying ways with farmers.
The president’s speech to the country Tuesday night hit on many of the same themes as his inaugural speech five weeks ago, but he also took a more optimistic tone that placed more emphasis on his domestic agenda in the coming year. Unlike his campaign speeches, the president focused heavily on the script and repeatedly called for the country and Congress to come together for his administration’s agenda centered on economic nationalism.
Tying his administration to both history and the future, Trump said some of the country’s biggest problems could be solved by the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence if the country comes together and Congress acts.
“I am asking all citizens to embrace this Renewal of the American Spirit,” Trump said concluding his speech. “I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big, and bold and daring things for our country. And I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment and — believe in yourselves. Believe in your future.”
Regarding his agenda, Trump called on Congress to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, “financed through both public and private capital, creating millions of new jobs.” The president said, “The time has come for national rebuilding,” noting the U.S. has invested heavily overseas, but needs to invest more domestically.
He added, “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land.”
Farm groups have been big backers of increased investment infrastructure, which agricultural businesses realize is key to moving grain, oilseeds, meat products and other commodities not just across the country, but exported as well.
Trump also championed a significant tax cut, noting U.S. companies are taxed at one of the highest rates in the world. He said his economic team is working on “historic tax reform that will reduce the tax rate on our companies so they can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone. At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class.”
The president further indicated a changing dynamic for trade policies. Again, he criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the president chose to leave. He said the U.S. must respond to high tariffs and taxes that American companies face overseas. He cited the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Co. as one of those businesses.
“I believe strongly in free trade, but it also has to be fair trade!” Trump said.
While infrastructure, tax reform and changing trade policy were all areas the president campaigned on, he did not offer specific details for how infrastructure or tax cuts would be funded.
On immigration, Trump said his administration “has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security. By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone.”
Along with that, the president said he had put the ball in motion to “soon begin the construction of a great wall along our southern border. It will be started ahead of schedule and, when finished, it will be a very effective weapon against drugs and crime.”
Regarding other aspects of immigration, Trump said that the current system allows bringing in people to work the jobs that suppress the wages of U.S. workers and strains American taxpayers. He said the U.S. should follow countries such as Canada and Australia and create a merit-based immigration system. Under such a policy, people coming into the U.S. must be able to support themselves financially.
“I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws,” Trump said.
While the president has not released such an immigration proposal, any plan to change the structure of guest-worker programs could have a significant impact on agriculture. Farm workers make up about 1.5 million people, of which a large share are in the country illegally.
In a capstone to his goals, the president also called on Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, which he described as “an imploding disaster.” The president said such a plan should not mandate people buy insurance, but it should still cover people with pre-existing conditions. People should be able to buy their own coverage with more tax credits and expanded Health Savings Accounts. Further, states should get more resources and flexibility to deal with Medicaid “to make sure no one is left out.”
Trump also called for dealing with issues such as legal reforms that would lower the health care costs and the price of drugs. Further, the president called for allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines, which he said would lead to “creating a truly competitive national marketplace that will bring cost way down and provide far better care.”
The president also called for paid family leave. He added his administration would invest in women’s health, and also work “to promote clean air and clear water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure.”
Trump noted in the speech his first month in office dealt with several issues, such as pushing companies to bring back jobs and working to peel back regulatory challenges for businesses. He did not mention Tuesday’s executive order on the EPA waters of the U.S. rule, but he did talk about creating a new rule to mandate that for every new agency regulation, two old regulations must be repealed. Trump also added he had signed the executive orders to restart the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines, which had been blocked under the Obama administration.
Trump added, “And I’ve issued a new directive that new American pipelines be made with American steel.”
Trump also said he inherited a troubled nation that has 94 million people out of the labor force and 43 million people living in poverty or on food stamps. Trump said the economic recovery under Obama was the worst in 65 years and Obama added more national debt than nearly all other presidents combined.
The president also called on increased military spending and increased spending for veterans. More details on those proposals will come out in the coming days with the president’s proposed budget. Any significant increase in military, infrastructure spending or border security would likely have to be offset by cuts in other areas of the federal budget.
The highlight of Trump’s speech was a prolonged standing ovation by Congress for Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, who died last month in a raid and intelligence operation in Yemen.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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