The Corner

Economy & Business

Two Not-So-Small Inconsistencies in Last Night’s SOTU Address

President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on February 5, 2019. (Doug Mills/Pool via REUTERS)

There was some good and bad in last night’s state of the union address. But for now I would like to point out two not-so-small inconsistencies in the speech.

First, the president made this inspiring statement:

America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control.

We are BORN FREE, and we will STAY FREE.

Yes! (Or I wish.) But then he added later in the speech:

I am also proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave — so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.

See, the way you guarantee that “every new parent” gets paid leave is indeed through “government coercion.” Those who I have joined in recent years alongside the Democrats in arguing that our lack of federal law to provide paid leave is a huge problem (in spite of data showing that while we do not have a federal paid-leave program, a majority of women have access to some form of leave at the private and state levels) have helped making this a Republican issue worth a mention at the SOTU address.

I know that government coercion isn’t what they had in mind, and at first a new federal program may start without a mandate. However, in the end, whether with this president or later down the road, I can promise you it is what we will get (if only because the cost of a program funded through the unemployment-insurance program like Mr. Trump proposed last year will require more spending, and in turn, higher taxes) .

Unfortunately, the consequences will be real like they have been everywhere else in the past.

Second, I also notice that the president rightfully highlighted the destructive effects wars can have. He said this:

An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations.

Yet, he seems more than willing to continue engaging in the current trade war with China and start new ones:

Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion dollars of Chinese goods — and now our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars. …

Tonight, I am also asking you to pass the United States Reciprocal Trade Act, so that if another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the same product that they sell to us.

As I have noted in the past, the previous increases in duties, whether on metals or Chinese goods, have only led to retaliations from foreign countries and cosmetic changes to previous trade deals. And if Congress would grant this new power to raise tariffs unilaterally on many individual goods and services, and also by targeting specific countries, the president would not only raise tens of thousands of duty rates, jeopardize our entire trading system, but also guarantee further retaliations from our trading partners. As the Wall Street Journal noted, that’s “192 tariff wars, one against each country on Earth”.

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Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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