Democratic House Threatens Trump's Business Agenda

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House Democrats could throw up new roadblocks to the new North American trade pact, which replaces Nafta and protects tariff-free trade for the auto industry in North America.

House Democrats could throw up new roadblocks to the new North American trade pact, which replaces Nafta and protects tariff-free trade for the auto industry in North America.


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The Democratic Party’s success in capturing the House of Representatives is expected to complicate Mr. Trump’s push to negotiate new trade deals and cut regulation for industries such as autos, energy and finance, policy analysts and market strategists say.

“You’re not going to see any further major legislative changes. There’s not going to be another tax cut and no major policy revisions for business,” said Terry Haines, senior political strategist at brokerage Evercore ISI. “But at the same time, nothing passed under Trump gets rolled back.”

The GOP will also face new hurdles on tax-cutting initiatives set in motion last year that have boosted business profits and helped to lift consumer confidence. House Democrats are likely to push for tax increases—including possibly raising the corporate tax rate as part of a budget deal—and block Republican efforts to make permanent new individual income tax cuts passed last year, economists and policy analysts say.

“Some industries could be on the defensive with certain provisions of the tax code,” said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “A Democratic House [will] go after things they don’t like in the tax code as a means of paying for programs they do.”

Despite a split Congress, here are three key issues that could provide common ground​ for Democrats and President Trump​. Photo: Getty Images.

The House Democrats won’t be able to roll back any signature legislation passed by the Republican Congress without a majority in the Senate. But policy analysts say they may push through some tax changes in return for their support on other bills or trade deals.

One of the most pressing policy issues impacting business is a new trade deal struck by the Trump administration in October with Canada and Mexico to replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

The new pact, called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, protects tariff-free trade for the auto industry in the region—a win for major car companies—but adds new restrictions, requiring a greater portion of the car to be built in North America and with higher-wage workers to avoid duties. For the farm sector, it removes trade barriers on a range of U.S. exports, such as poultry, grains and dairy, benefiting agricultural producers.

Congress must ratify the agreement for it to become law, and that is unlikely to take place until a newly elected House is seated early next year. House Democrats could throw up new roadblocks to the trade deal, pushing for provisions more favorable to labor unions, such as better wage protection for U.S. workers, political analysts say.

Who voted, and how, based on a survey of about 90,000 people

Any delay in its passage would create new uncertainty for companies looking for clarity to move forward with investment decisions. It also could hinder Mr. Trump’s efforts to negotiate new trade deals with China and other trading partners, prolonging ongoing disputes over U.S. tariffs on aluminum, steel and Chinese-made goods.

“We expect ratification, but the politics in that may be a bit uncomfortable for all involved,” said Stephen Gallagher, chief U.S. economist at brokerage firm Société Générale.

House Democrats are also likely to take aim at Mr. Trump’s deregulation drive, using their oversight power on key committees to challenge those efforts, according to Wall Street strategists.

Environmental and industry trade groups say oil-and-gas companies, along with coal producers, have been among the biggest winners so far in the administration’s push to ease mandates on reducing greenhouse gases. Those interest groups also say the auto industry stands to benefit from an attempt to curb future fuel-economy requirements on cars and trucks.

However, strategists say Democrats controlling the House could use committee chairmanships to launch investigations, initiate exhaustive document requests and require company executives to testify, moves that could stall the administration’s attempts to roll back regulations.

“Pretty much any regulated industry can look forward to a lot of oversight hearings,” said Evercore’s Mr. Haines.

Financial firms that backed the Republican plan to rescind parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law could face increased scrutiny from House Democrats. Those lawmakers have vowed to stop GOP efforts to further weaken Dodd-Frank and say they want to increase funding for Wall Street watchdog agencies.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi celebrated Democrats taking control of the House in an election night speech. Photo: Getty

Democratic lawmakers also have called for increasing the corporate tax rate to 25%, up from 21% now, and although they don’t have enough votes to pass new legislation, they could press for it as part of broader budget talks.They’ll also likely look to raise taxes on hedge funds and private-equity firms, and try to reshape international tax rules for firms with profits and operations abroad, policy analysts say.

In addition, drug prices are likely to remain an issue for lawmakers and continue to lead to criticism of drug companies. Democrats can draw more attention to drug prices by launching investigations into egregious cases and requesting company executives to testify.

They also could seek legislation tackling high drug prices by creating a position in the government to limit price increases or pushing for Medicare to have the authority to negotiate directly with drugmakers. Those proposals could prove palatable to President Trump, whose criticisms of pharmaceutical prices have faced pushback from some members of his party.

Efforts by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act are expected to fizzle without control of both chambers of Congress, which may provide more stability for health-care providers. Democrats have said they would push back against Republican efforts to expand sales of health plans that don’t meet the health care law’s requirements.

Some analysts say Mr. Trump could work to forge a compromise with House Democrats on boosting spending for infrastructure improvements to roads and power grids, which Citibank estimates would add about 0.2 percentage points to real economic growth in 2020.

—Jonathan D. Rockoff and Richard Rubin contributed to this article.

Write to Chester Dawson at chester.dawson@wsj.com

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