The nation’s economy will rebound faster if Congress and the Obama administration avoid future fiscal crises and work instead to advance more robust energy, trade and regulatory policies, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said Thursday.
The head of the big business lobby used his annual State of American Business address to also urge policymakers to tackle an overhaul of entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security and the tax code while cutting government spending.
“While our economy may be growing, it is a fragile growth,” Donohue said.
The New York native, who has been at the helm of the chamber for nearly 15 years, later told reporters at a briefing that the chamber doesn’t support blocking an increase in the debt ceiling, a position advocated by some conservative lawmakers ahead of this spring’s battle over the government’s statutory borrowing power.
“My own view, our view is that we should not default on our debt,” Donohue said.
He also reiterated a policy platform that the chamber announced last year as a possible “third bucket” of stepped up domestic energy production to help create jobs, grow the economy and increase tax revenue going into government coffers. The chamber, he noted, will continue to lobby for the administration’s approval of a Keystone XL pipeline project.
Not surprisingly, the chamber’s opponents did not get behind Donohue’s agenda.
The liberal Public Citizen put out a statement shortly after the chamber event, criticizing Donohue for painting “a fantastical picture of the unfair burdens imposed on Big Business” but neglecting to mention that “corporate profits are at record highs.”
“First, isn’t it a bit much for the rich and powerful to endlessly call for cutbacks in the nation’s leading anti-poverty programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?” the Public Citizen release stated. “If Tom Donohue is concerned about the government’s fiscal situation, perhaps he should acknowledge the unreasonably low effective tax rate on corporations. Or declare that it’s outrageous for two dozen profitable Fortune 500 companies to pay zero in federal income tax in the past four years.”
When it comes to the regulatory system, Donohue blasted aspects of the Dodd-Frank financial law and the Affordable Care Act , which he said “could drive costs through the roof” and ultimately hurt the foundering economy.
The chamber’s law firm, the Institute for Legal Reform, also plans to expand, Donohue said, increasing the number of lawsuits it will pursue to fight regulations.
“Our preference is always to work within the legislative and regulatory processes, and we do that on a daily basis,” Donohue said. “But when rights have been trampled on or regulators have overstepped their bounds, well then, we’ll just take the necessary legal action.”
The chamber will also lobby, including with some of its less traditional allies from the evangelical Christian community, for comprehensive immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.
“Damn right we should” do more to educate and train for jobs our current citizens including returning soldiers from the battlefield, Donohue said. But, he added, the country should not close the door to immigrants.
Although many of the House and Senate candidates that the chamber backed didn’t win their elections this year, Donohue said the business lobby would continue its campaign work. The 100-year-old organization, he said, will “strengthen and improve itself as an organization and as an influential force and powerful brand.”
He added, “We will expand our grass-roots network ... while gearing up and refreshing our political program for the next election cycle.”
The chamber in the 2012 election cycle spent upward of $32 million on its favored candidates, according to data collected by the Sunlight Foundation. The group is also on pace to spend more than $100 million on lobbying in the past year, based on reports filed with Congress under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.