President Reagan has won widespread business support by moving to cut business taxes and by reducing the number of new government regulations imposed on business.
He has taken a pragmatic approach to trade issues. While favoring free trade in theory, he has approved import protection for several industries, including automobiles, textiles, and sugar. But he gave the steel industry less protection than it wanted from imported steel products.
The Reagan administration has shown little enthusiasm for the idea of developing a formal industrial policy to boost the international competitive position of United States industries.
The 1984 report of the President's Council of Economic Advisers argues that ''an industrial policy would not solve the problems faced by US industry and instead would create new problems.'' The best solution to the problems that changing competitive conditions are causing for aging US industries like steel and autos is ''to allow investors and workers to respond to such changes,'' the report argues.
The heart of the Reagan administration's tax policy toward business was the Economic Recovery Tax Act (ERTA) of 1981. It offered businesses faster tax write-offs for capital investments. The goal was to spur productivity and economic growth. Estimates by the Joint Committee on Taxation show that in fiscal 1984 alone, ERTA cut business taxes by $28.3 billion. Some of the tax reductions business won in 1981 were taken away in the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) of 1982. In a bid to help narrow the federal deficit, TEFRA tightened some depreciation rules that the preceding year's bill established, set rules to speed corporate tax payments, and reduced several business tax breaks by 15 percent.
And the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 also narrowed business tax breaks. Among other things, it tightened the rules for depreciating real estate, boosted taxes on diesel fuel, and trimmed tax breaks on the purchase of luxury cars.
The Reagan administration has enjoyed mixed success in reducing federal regulation of business. Shortly after taking office, the President signed an executive order that required executive-branch agencies to weigh the costs and benefits of proposed major new rules and to select the least costly alternative.
The President also named Vice-President Bush to head a task force to examine government regulation with the goal of eliminating unnecessary rules. The task force, which was disbanded in 1983, claims to have cut the size of the Federal Register, which prints new regulations, by 25 percent, thus saving 300 million hours of paper work annually.
However, Congress refused to go along with Reagan legislative proposals for regulatory reform, which, among other things, would have required cost-benefit considerations to be factored into the regulatory process. Congress also refused an administration request to abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Businessmen most frequently criticize the President on the issue of budget deficits. Some argue the deficits contribute to high interest rates, which hurt business. However, the President often responds that under his administration the prime rate has fallen from 21.5 percent to its current 12.25 to 12.50 percent level.