Tax cuts delivered in December were a win for the nation’s companies, but the economy is being held back by tariffs pushed by the Trump administration, a leader for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told Eau Claire area business leaders.
John Kirchner, the U.S. chamber’s manager of congressional and public affairs for the Midwest, began his presentation Friday morning at the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce building on South Farwell Street by lauding the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
“We’re still trying to tell that positive story about tax reform,” he said of the law that lowered corporate tax rates.
Beyond businesses paying lower taxes, Kirchner said, individuals have seen pay increases, smaller tax bills and lower electric rates that he attributed to the law approved in late December.
But after praising lower taxes and fewer regulations under Trump, Kirchner took a deep sigh and began talking about tariffs imposed on foreign goods this year and the start of a trade war.
“For every person benefited by these tariffs another 14 are hurt,” he said.
While the taxes on Chinese steel may save jobs at American foundries, Kirchner said, they result in higher prices for companies and consumers.
For example, Ford Motor Co. saved $208.4 million from the federal tax cuts but expects tariffs will cost the automaker $509 million in 2018, he said.
Another critique Kirchner leveled against Trump and the Republican-led Congress was the inability to decide how to fund improvements to the country’s infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. The national chamber’s stance is that the federal fuel tax should be raised by 25 cents over five years — its first increase in 25 years.
At least one member of the audience took issue with Kirchner praising tax cuts while pushing for more spending on infrastructure.
“It seems disingenuous to celebrate tax cuts in the same sentence as an inability to fund those things,” said Wendy Sue Johnson, an Eau Claire attorney running as a Democrat in the 68th state Assembly District against Republican Jesse James, Altoona’s police chief.
Kirchner responded that the tax cuts did help boost the economy, which leads to more revenue for the government. But Johnson countered that the cuts mostly went to companies and haven’t really benefited consumers, who drive the domestic economy.
Also in the audience was Steve Toft, a Republican from Osseo who is challenging longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse.
Toft contended that tax cuts have been popular among the families he’s spoken to on the campaign trail.
“It’s been a real positive from the individual and employer perspectives,” he said.
Toft said part of the solution to road funding for Wisconsin would be that more of the federal taxes paid by state residents would be spent on projects here instead of in other states.
Visiting Eau Claire just a week after primary elections that firmed up ballots for fall’s midterm elections, Kirchner shared his projections for how Congress might look after November.
The president’s party often loses seats in Congress during midterms, Kirchner said, and there are strong Democratic candidates running in “ruby red” states.
“There is a belief that Republicans can lose the House,” he said.
Republicans hold a 263-193 advantage in the House now, but current polling suggests they may struggle to hold onto the majority. Democrats are expected to secure at least 199 seats after November and Republicans 195 with 41 races viewed as toss-ups, Kirchner said.
In the Senate, Republicans hold a slim majority with 51 seats, but three are viewed as vulnerable in the upcoming election, he said.
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