Entrepreneurs

Why Main Street is less enthusiastic than Wall Street about Trump's big speech

President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, February 28, 2017.
Jim Lo Scalzo | Pool | Reuters
President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, February 28, 2017.

President Donald Trump's first address before a joint session of Congress Tuesday drew praise for its more optimistic tone and calls for unity across party lines. Yet Main Street's reaction to the speech was mixed since key details on policy overhauls like health-care reform were missing.

Trump reaffirmed his commitment to tax reform and deregulation, campaign promises he plans to tackle as President. The message was well-received by business advocacy groups that have long called for simplification of the tax code and less-burdensome federal regulations.

"His focus on tax and regulatory relief, and enabling a health insurance market that offers more options at dramatically lower costs for small businesses and the self-employed are their key issues, and we continue to be enthused about the progress that is being made is these policy areas," said Karen Kerrigan, president of the nonpartisan Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, in a statement.

The speech was viewed by some as a continuation of the action Trump has already taken to ease government regulations at the federal level — cited by the conservative lobbying group National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) as a top-three issue for small companies, alongside health-care costs and taxes.

Trump took executive action in January to slash regulations in all areas of government, enacting a regulatory freeze and requiring agencies to put forth two old regulations to be abolished for each new one proposed.

"President Trump delivered a very strong economic message that hit the right notes. He reiterated his call for tax reform that would reduce the burden for businesses," Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the NFIB, said in a statement.

"He expressed in urgent terms the need to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a system that reduces costs. He has already taken bold actions to reduce the crushing burden of regulations, and it's clear that regulatory reform is a key part of his economic agenda," Duggan said. "Small business owners have waited a long time to hear a speech like that from the President of the United States."

But many are still waiting on more clarity from the new administration on its plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In the address Trump called for a health-care system that uses tax credits and expanded health-savings accounts to help pay for coverage, which would allow insurers to sell plans across state lines and would ensure that those with pre-existing conditions continue to have guaranteed access to health insurance.

The speech also included promises of a stable transition for those who are currently enrolled in health exchanges under the ACA.

"After over three years of depending on health care, millions of Americans, including small businesses, rely on this critical coverage," said Katie Vlietstra, vice president of Public Affairs at the nonpartisan National Association for the Self-Employed, in a statement.

"In a time of uncertainty about its future, President Trump should move cautiously to ensure that our health care system is replaced with an alternative plan that is both affordable and offers options while preserving key safeguards," she said.

"It is imperative any replacement effort stabilizes the health insurance market place – without short-term stabilization policies in place, chaos will adversely affect the health care market and U.S. economy."

Some entrepreneurs are also wondering about the fate of the employer mandate under the ACA, which requires businesses with at least 50 or more full-time employees to offer insurance or face penalties for failing to comply with the law. Trump has already taken action to roll back the individual mandate of the law, which has similar penalties for individuals who fail to enroll in health insurance plans.

"The employer mandate is something we are really curious about — where that lies," said Molly Day, vice president of Public Affairs for the nonpartisan advocacy group National Small Business Association. "We are also curious how they will address costs. We were happy to hear him mention HSAs but in general would like more detail."

And while Trump promoted policies that affect businesses of all sizes, Day said the group would have "liked to have heard more about small business in general" from the president, who garnered strong support from Main Street on his road to the White House.