political columnists Brandon Ballenger and Holden Miller debate Trump's financial impact on consumers (illustrated)

We’re trying something new, me and fellow political columnist Holden Miller — directly debating how what Trump and Congress are up to is affecting Americans financially.

Normally we both tackle subjects that interest us from our own angles: I focus a lot on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and education and criticize Trump policy, while he’s devoted a lot of time to defending Trump on health care and the tax bill. Sometimes we overlap: We’ve both written about the new Federal Reserve chair.

But we’ve never had a direct conversation on the issues until today. To kick things off, we had a neutral third party ( editor Michael Koretzky) pick three topics for us both to weigh in on. Let’s jump in…

Immigration policy is affecting homeowners

The newsReal estate brokerage Redfin’s research found that 15 percent of respondents in a new survey based their decision to sell a home or not buy one based on “worry over immigration policies.” Nine percent sold their homes and 7 percent did not buy because each “worried I wouldn’t be able to stay or work in the U.S. much longer.”

Brandon Ballenger

Some might discount this because it disproportionately affects immigrants, and mostly in “liberal” economies. But to me this is just another example where economic uncertainty is shaping people’s lives, regardless of political affiliation. And the sad thing is a lot of that uncertainty is driven by Trump’s lack of policy knowledge, vision, and the political experience to carry it out.

“Economic uncertainty is driven by Trump’s lack of policy knowledge, vision, and political experience.”

Trump says he’s going to do a lot of things, including build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Often, those things don’t end up happening because they’re illegal, stupid, and/or wildly impractical. (And sometimes they don’t happen because he changes his mind on a whim and decides to do the opposite — as he flip-flopped on the Paris climate agreement and labeling China a currency manipulator.)

The average person doesn’t know the ins and outs of the law either, or what courts are going to rule against, or what Congress will do. They have to make decisions that affect their bottom line every day, based on very limited information. Meanwhile Trump has an enormous wealth of political resources at his disposal to learn about any issue he wants, and squanders it to bingewatch Fox News or go golfing. He’s amazingly incurious and it’s a disservice to the country.

I’ve also taken on the myth before that immigrants are takers and not makers, and actually are an important part of the overall American economy.

Holden Miller 

“If you are an immigrant who does not yet have citizenship … The burden of uncertainty falls on you.”

This is that age old argument that makes Republicans look like cold, unfeeling robots. But these days when we discuss immigration we don’t even draw a difference between “illegal” (can we even say that anymore?) or “undocumented” immigration and actual immigrants. The synonymous usage of the word “immigrant” to describe the entire spectrum tends to drive fear.  Fear is usually driven by misinformation. Trump isn’t looking at deporting immigrants — the focus in on those here without any legal standing. This study’s results look like they are based on a lack of information.

The average person may not know the laws of immigration. However, if you are an immigrant who does not yet have citizenship, it would behoove you to know the laws. In the same way, we should all know our health insurance inside and out. It’s a matter of health and therefore life. The burden of uncertainty falls on you.

While it is true that undocumented immigrants are not always takers, but sometimes makers, they in fact, make a up small portion of the economy. They may bring in around $12 billion in tax money, but that doesn’t outweigh their cost to the government. A 2013 study estimated that undocumented immigrants cost two times whatever they paid into the government.

Americans don’t believe in American leadership

The news: CareerBuilder and The Harris Poll found “almost two-thirds of workers (65 percent) do not believe in the leadership capabilities of the U.S. government officials, and roughly half of workers (47 percent) are worried about the future of the United States.” They believe in Trump slightly more than the Supreme Court and a lot more than Congress, but more than three quarters have no faith in any branch of federal government.

Brandon Ballenger

There are a lot of financial concerns raised in this study, structured around what people believe the American Dream is. (Top answer: making enough money to comfortably support a family.) The top thing holding people back, which 58 percent of people cited, is the cost of education. I agree, which is why I harp on student loans and Congressional inaction all the time.

“People trust Congress even less than Trump, and it’s no surprise why. They haven’t gotten much done for average Americans in a while.”

I even recently suggested Democrats should use budget negotiations as a bargaining chip for new rules on student loan bankruptcy and loan forgiveness, which was a little tongue-in-cheek. I don’t want shutdowns to happen, but I think those are worthwhile policy goals on their own.

Unfortunately, people trust Congress even less than Trump, and it’s no surprise why. They haven’t gotten much done for average Americans in a while, under Trump or Obama. Sorry, Holden, but I don’t count the tax bill as substantially helping the average American, by the way. Bonuses for airline employees just aren’t the same as permanent pay increases — especially not for people like us who didn’t even get that.

Holden Miller

I hate to disagree with my fellow Americans, but in this study I have to do just that. Before we get a single step further, I am not saying America with Trump is a utopia. What I am saying is: Things are improving at a rate beyond Obama’s 8 years in office.

“If Americans are unsure of America’s leadership, it’s because of perception. It’s a more prosperous America.”

It’s okay if Brandon doesn’t think that airline workers are a a good representation of America — there were bankers too. Look here: I have more numbers. How about across the board (90 percent) income is set to rise $130 a paycheck, a direct result of the tax plan. Does that affect enough Americans to warrant an ‘atta boy’ for Trump?

Wages grew by 2.9 percent from 2017 to 2018 — the first time growth like that has happened in years. Retirement plans ballooned. In 2017, the market exploded. It’s still resting high after a February correction.

If Americans are unsure of America’s leadership, it’s because of perception. Don’t listen to what Trump says, look at what he does. It’s a more prosperous America. Oh, and in 2015 only 36 percent of Americans thought President Obama could solve the country’s problems.

The new tax plan will make divorce more painful

The news: A survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found 95 percent of family law lawyers believe the new tax law has implications for divorces and two-thirds think it will make them “more acrimonious.” In particular, the tax law got rid of a deduction for paying child support.

Holden Miller

This study is a bit of a misnomer. It will no doubt make lawyers’ work more difficult. But, will divorcees have less money as a result of the tax plan? No. I’ve beat around the bush in previous columns. But here it is: Removing deductions and doubling the standard deduction has a net gain to break even for most taxpayers. Over-simplified, but instead of getting a $10 bill and a $5 bill, you will get a $20 bill.

“Removing deductions and doubling the standard deduction has a net gain to break even for most taxpayers.”

The real meat of this study is underneath when a lawyer explains what this means. The belief is that it will make it difficult to settle divorces. “A bargaining chip” has been lost. Should our tax system be manipulated for civil suits? I don’t think so.

Basically this change makes the lawyer’s job more difficult. I am sure that a majority of America will shed a tear for the barristers. “When will attorneys finally get a fair shake?” the people will cry.

Oh, at the bottom of the study there are some hints to help attorneys.

Brandon Ballenger

Of course it’s a survey from a lawyer association, so it’s targeted toward lawyers.

Consumers certainly aren’t going to base their political opinions around what’s convenient for lawyers, and they probably aren’t making the decision to divorce based on changes in tax law — especially since we’ve still barely had a moment to digest the changes Republicans rammed through for Christmas after wasting all year accomplishing nothing.

But it’s one tiny example of how a handful of people who didn’t even read what they voted on (in their limited defense, they had no time to) are affecting the personal and professional lives of millions of Americans. Numerous details aside, it was obvious from the start that cutting government revenues should mean cutting other things. Taxes are always a question of priorities.

“This tax law is a ticking time bomb. The problem is ‘the party of fiscal responsibility’ has entirely given up on dealing with debt now that they’re in power again.”

But Republicans are trying to have their cake and eat it too, and throwing a few crumbs to the average American (I’m still waiting to see this extra $130-per-check I’m supposedly gonna get) doesn’t change the fact this tax law is a ticking time bomb.

The problem is “the party of fiscal responsibility” has entirely given up on dealing with debt now that they’re in power again. Trump’s new budget outspends anything President Obama ever offered, and it isn’t even to dig out of a recession.

Big corporate tax cut (and tiny consumer tax cut) and then bigger spending? It’s not sustainable, and they know it. But they can just leave it for the grownups to clean up later, and then jeer and pretend Democrats are the ones who spend recklessly.

Just like usual. The Great Recession happened at the end of President Bush’s second term after tax cuts and deregulation. In the decade leading up to the Great Depression, Republicans controlled Congress and the White House just like they do today. And Republican presidents have overseen almost every recession in between.

In a recession, nobody wins — and they certainly aren’t thinking about that time they got a few extra bucks as a holiday bonus.

But yeah, anyway, those poor lawyers.

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Article last modified on July 12, 2018. Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Let’s Debate: Immigration, Taxes, and Education - AMP.

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Article last modified on July 12, 2018. Published by, LLC .