More Trouble for Tennessee Businesses

The last few days have seen even more policy changes in Washington that will hurt people and businesses in Tennessee.

First, over the weekend, the administration announced a decision to withhold billions of dollars in legally required annual payments to health insurance companies. These “risk adjustment” payments help stabilize insurance markets to keep premiums affordable. This system is a part of the Affordable Care Act. Risk adjustment allows the costs of catastrophic illnesses to be spread among a larger pool of citizens so that costs can be more predictable. Insurance companies are businesses, so they will be forced to raise premiums to cover expenses. These increased costs will be passed on to individuals and businesses in East Tennessee and throughout the U.S.

Then we also began a trade war last week. Trade wars are fought with tariffs, which is another name for a kind of international sales tax. The war started when the U.S. imposed new sales taxes on foreign imports. Of course, the cost of this tax ends up being passed on to American consumers and businesses in the form of higher prices. Then, other countries match our new tax with one of their own that is applied to our exports, and that increases the price of goods sold by American businesses to overseas customers. This is a problem because anything that makes American goods more expensive makes American businesses less competitive. The end result is a global vicious spiral of retaliatory price increases. Everybody gets hurt and nobody really wins.

The trade war’s initial cost to American families is estimated to be about $210 per family, but its final cost remains unknown, because there is no plan for when and how to bring the cycle of retaliatory price increases to an end. Whatever the cost, the trade war is yet another back-door take-back of the recent tax cut. Many Tennessee First District businesses such as distilleries and farmers who raise soybeans, corn, pork, and poultry have already seen negative effects from retaliatory tariffs. And let’s not forget the 250,000 American jobs that are projected to be lost because of the trade war. There is no benefit here for Tennessee citizens.

I’m not sure what Republican challenger Todd McKinley’s stance on these issues is, but the upcoming destabilizing costs of healthcare insurance are consistent with the record of incumbent Phil Roe, who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act without delivering the promised replacement. As far as the trade war goes, on June 30 Congressman Roe did admit that he was “concerned broad tariffs have the potential to stifle economic growth in East Tennessee.” This to me is a case of much too little and way too late. The people of East Tennessee need real help, not just expressions of concern and sympathy. Congress has always had the power to control the implementation of the tariffs which provoked the trade war, but has done nothing about what is happening now.

A balance of power is built into our Constitution, and is essential to a functioning Democracy. Yet over 100 members of Congress, including Congressman Roe, have a 96 percent or higher record of automatically voting the way they are instructed by the Executive Branch and Paul Ryan.

We need a Congressman who is willing to be unpopular with party leadership when that is what it takes to ensure a bright future for the citizens of East Tennessee.