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Optimism among America's small businesses have soared, but a year after President Donald Trump's election victory, Main Street advocacy groups are giving mixed reviews on his performance.
The overall tone of the administration has been one of deregulation, with the president signing an executive order to curb new regulations and repeal older ones in his first month of office. The moves and continued message have sent the stock market and small business optimism to record highs over the past year. However, key campaign promises, such as Trump's promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, have stalled.
"Small businesses are upbeat and positive about the economy. In general, they think the country is headed in the right direction," said Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association, a nonpartisan advocacy group. "But in terms of accomplishments, I think they'd also say they had higher hopes on the policy front. They had wanted more pro-growth legislation, and more of the president and Congress working together on things."
Optimism is still near record highs. Wells Fargo/Gallup's Small Business Index saw its largest increase in a decade in recent months and is holding steady. The National Federation of Independent Business' monthly read on sentiment peaked postelection to 105.8 in December and 105.9 in January but has since pared back, hitting 103 in September — its lowest level since Trump was elected. This is still well above the historical average of 98.
Despite the drop, the conservative lobbying group said its membership is "generally very pleased" with Trump's performance thus far.
"Small business is especially supportive of the president's actions on regulatory issues," said NFIB communications director Jack Mozloom. "The Federal Register is nearly empty now, thanks to his efforts to curb regulations. … The cost of regulations is disproportionately heavy for small businesses. They have to spend more than their corporate cousins to comply, so this is a very big deal. Small-business owners supported his efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare as well. And, they continue to expect substantial tax relief."
But the group issued a statement last week saying it could not support the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Republican plan to overhaul the tax code, in its current form. It said government "should not pick winners and losers," and said the 25 percent rate for pass-through businesses isn't a "true small-business rate." Many groups were hoping for parity with large corporations, which would receive a 20 percent rate under the bill.
The nonpartisan Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council noted a positive shift deregulation. The council's president and CEO, Karen Kerrigan, said the shift has enabled small companies to "plan with confidence as a variety of uncertainties have been lifted."
But movement on key issues like taxes and health-care costs will be needed to bolster confidence in the administration, she added.
"Small-business owners understand that everything takes longer in Washington, but they did have high expectations for President Trump getting more things done at a faster clip," Kerrigan said. "That is what he said he would do. They are expecting a signed tax reform bill. With the failure of health-care reform, they are now looking at his executive orders on health coverage to bear some fruit."
McCracken echoed that point, adding that a key focus for 2018 for his group will be health-care reform.
"We are hoping we can get the tax bill to where we want it to be, and the highest priority will be getting back to health-care costs to reduce them," he said. "The piece that can really come back to strangle us is health-care and its costs, so we need to get a handle on that."