NFIB's Duggan: Assessing the Obama Presidency

Date: August 30, 2016 Last Edit: September 09, 2016

In less than five months, President Obama will leave office and historians will begin to assess his accomplishments and failures. The debate over where he ranks among the presidents will likely be as fiercely fought as the bitterly partisan disagreements that marked his eight years as President.

What President Obama and his supporters may view as his highest achievements would be described less charitably by most small business owners. Obamacare is foremost among them.

The Affordable Care Act, which passed Congress on a strictly partisan basis with a bare majority, is getting harder to defend by the day. Sixteen of 23 insurance cooperatives, which were supposed to compete with private carriers, have already gone under, and the rest are on life support. The same insurance companies that were cheerleaders for the law are now suffering enormous losses in the government-run exchanges. Several have already announced that they are dropping out or sharply reducing their participation. The stampede out of Obamacare, say experts, will leave as many as a third of Americans with only one choice.

Insurance premiums for small business owners have risen sharply under the ACA despite the promise of lower costs. The pool of Americans receiving subsidized coverage is older and sicker than the President’s experts predicted, and unless that trend can be reversed, premiums are sure to rise much higher. Premium spikes will chase younger and healthier Americans out of the market. Actuaries call that a death spiral, and at this point it appears to be imminent.

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The President no doubt hopes that his dramatic expansion of regulatory powers will also be viewed by historians as a positive legacy. Small business owners will just as certainly disagree.

The Waters of the US Rule gives the EPA unprecedented power over local business development. If it survives a court challenge (NFIB is a plaintiff against the rule), small business owners will have to apply to the EPA for permission to make even the smallest improvements to their properties if there is water nearby. The applications can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Even more worrisome is the flood of lawsuits that the new rule will trigger.

The Clean Power Plan, which the President touts as a major accomplishment, threatens every consumer with higher utility bills. Small businesses, which depend on reliable, affordable electricity, face significantly higher operating expenses that will eat away at their profits.

The Department of Labor Overtime Rule, the OSHA Walk-Around Rule, and thousands more regulations imposed by this administration will make it harder and costlier to start and run a small business in America. The President and his admirers will argue that every one of them serves the national interest, a highly debatable proposition considering the long-term damage to the economy.

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Small business owners don’t have to wait for history’s verdict on the Obama presidency. They’ve struggled for eight years. The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, which is internationally respected, has produced negative readings in 89 of the past 91 months. Faced with higher taxes, higher health insurance costs, higher litigation risks, and a nearly stagnant economy, small business owners have been unwilling to take risks. Let’s concede that the President took office when the country was in deep recession. But that was nearly eight years ago. It is a historical fact that after previous recessions, the U.S. economy came roaring back mostly on the strength of small business. That didn’t happened this time.

This is the slowest recovery in American history. It corresponds with the President’s most aggressive policies. Historians, economists, and politicians may debate for years over whether there is a link. In the meantime, small business owners very much hope that the next eight years will be different.

Sincerely,

Juanita Duggan, NFIB President and CEO

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