President Donald Trump, who was sworn into office Jan. 20 as the 45th president of the United States, will repeal the Affordable Care Act and put a freeze on H-1B visas during his first 100 days, predicted some Indian Americans who attended the inaugural celebrations in Washington, D.C.
“From this moment on, it's going to be ‘America First.’ Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength,” said Trump in his inaugural speech.
“The American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said to the crowd, estimated by various media at 250,000. The president challenged that number, saying attendance was around 1.5 million.
The inauguration was eclipsed by a nationwide women’s march, organized in part by Indian American city councilwoman Kshama Sawant from Seattle, Wash. More than three million women and men marched at 600 gatherings across the country. (See separate story.)
Sampat Shivangi, founder and president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, told India-West that Trump had espoused his “Buy America, Hire America,” agenda extensively during his campaign and at his inaugural address. “There may be a freeze in the H-1B program,” he said, noting that the new president has pledged to create high-paying jobs for American workers.
But a freeze on H-1B visas – temporary work authorization given to highly-skilled foreign workers, primarily from India – would not be in the best interests of the U.S., said Shivangi, a long-time Republican, who pledged his support for Trump just before the Republican National Convention last summer. “American companies understand there is going to be a drop in H-1B applicants this year, and are already trying to hire American workers,” he said.
Shivangi, chairman of the Mississippi State Board of Mental Health, attended the inaugural a day after returning from India, where he received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, the highest civilian award given to NRIs. Shivangi praised Trump for scrapping the Trans Pacific Partnership – former President Barack Obama’s signature trade deal – on his first day in office.
Shivangi said the president’s withdrawal from the TPP would strengthen the U.S-India trade relationship, as India would face less opposition from TPP countries. Under the Obama administration, India and the U.S. set an ambitious target of $500 billion in two-way trade. India was not a signatory to the TPP.
“India has to be proactive in trade. It must work to forge a relationship with Trump,” Shivangi asserted to India-West, adding: “Trump is a businessman with a lot of commercial interest in India. He knows it’s in his best interest to keep a cordial relationship with the country.”
Shivangi criticized the former president for the TPP – which was not supported by several Democrats – and also for his “weakness on foreign policy.”
“Radical Islam and the Islamic State was created by Obama,” said Shivangi, broadly predicting that Trump will destabilize IS within his first month in office. “He’s got more generals in his Cabinet than in the history of the United States,” noted the Indian American physician.
Amar D. Amar, founder of Indian Americans For Trump, spent the week in Washington, D.C. with his wife, attending inaugural festivities. “We had spent many, many months during the campaign defending Trump. This was our time to celebrate,” he told India-West, adding: “In four years, we will be proudly celebrating his re-election.”
The Trump administration will have a positive impact on the Indian economy, said Amar, noting that his organization supported Trump early on because of the candidate’s “deep understanding of the U.S.-India trade relationship.”
On his first official day in office Jan. 23, Trump invited several CEOs of major U.S. corporations to the White House, urging them to bring their manufacturing facilities back to the U.S. He pledged to impose a "selective border tax" on goods manufactured abroad and sold in the U.S. While the president did not specify what shape such a tax would take at the breakfast meeting, in earlier interviews during his campaign, he said he would impose a 35 percent tax on companies that outsource production to other countries and then import goods back to the U.S.
Asked if a border tax would decrease U.S. investors’ interest in India for manufacturing, Amar skirted around the question, saying China, Japan, Mexico, Korea, and Germany would feel the biggest impacts.
Amar doubted Trump would freeze the H-1B program. “It’s not going to be practical. If production comes back to the U.S., we’re going to need STEM-skilled workers to fill those jobs,” he emphasized, noting that the U.S. has a shortage of workers trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Undocumented immigrant children – known as Dreamers – will also not be impacted during the first 100 days of the new Trump administration, said Amar, doubting that – in the long-term – Congress and the White House would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented children and adults. “Skilled workers must be our priority for immigration; we don’t need liabilities,” he said.
The Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – will be “finished” within the first 100 days, most likely without a plan to replace it, predicted Amar. “The ACA is a burden to the system, which the government cannot afford to pay,” he told India-West, noting that the landmark initiative, which currently provides 20 million Americans with health insurance coverage, would soon become bankrupt, if left to its own devices.
“Trump has promised he will leave no one dying by the roadside, but a full replacement will not occur within the first 100 days,” said Amar, adding that repeal must happen “immediately, before the Senate loses its very thin majority.”
Trump issued an executive order shortly after his inaugural, stating his intent to repeal the ACA. His order aims to minimize the economic impact to states and to families, and orders the IRS not to impose a penalty on people who don’t have health insurance.
The ACA currently imposes a fine of $695 per year for each adult lacking health insurance, and $347 per child for a household maximum of $2,085 per year, according to healthcare.gov.
But Harmeet Dhillon, the Republican National Committeewoman from California and the first Indian American to serve in that role, told India-West it was unlikely that health insurance schemes would be changed quickly. Most employers have already purchased health plans for their employees for the year, she noted, adding that it would take at least a couple of years for a new scheme to be implemented.
“Health insurance is a top priority for the new administration,” said Dhillon, a San Francisco, Calif.-based attorney who attended the inaugural with her husband Sarv and her parents. She noted that Health and Human Services was the first department to get underway, shortly after the inauguration.
Rep. Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon who is Trump’s pick to head up HHS, has been dogged through his Senate confirmation process with allegations of insider trading and conflicts of interest, including his investment in the medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet, and days later, introducing a bill that would benefit the company.
Several new healthcare plans that could potentially replace the ACA have been sitting on the shelf for seven years, stated Dhillon, noting that Trump has stated his support for several pieces of the existing ACA, notably keeping children on their parents plans until age 26; and requiring carriers to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
A new plan could allow Americans to buy insurance across state lines, potentially reducing costs for purchasers; the ability to buy only catastrophic coverage, which would benefit younger users who don’t regularly access health care; and different types of options for employers who offer health insurance to their employees, said Dhillon.
The attorney noted that changes to the existing H-1B program – such as raising their minimum wage to $100,000 per year – would largely benefit Indian temporary workers, she said.
But she questioned an advancement of the program. “H-1B visas are oversubscribed every year, but are they being used in a way that undermines American workers?” queried Dhillon, noting an action at the University of California, in which 97 tech workers will lose their jobs next month. Their jobs will be filled by the Indian staffing company, HCL, along with tech companies FireEye and Dell (see: http://bit.ly/2jueNBu).
Every transfer of power at the White House has had its challenges, said Dhillon, who is being considered by the administration to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, as reported by the San Francisco Daily Journal. “People are taking this transfer of power particularly harshly.”
“I hope all Americans give Trump a chance,” she said.