U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue pledged to “double down” on the group’s multimillion-dollar political efforts this year while also pushing for overhauls in Congress of immigration, infrastructure and entitlement programs.
Donohue said the chamber would invest more money and time on primary elections ahead of the 2018 midterm elections with the goal of restoring more power to the political “middle” while still aiming to keep Republicans in control of the House and Senate.
He said the group also would work to cultivate more ties with Democrats as the chamber lobbies this year on legislative issues that could fall victim to partisan gridlock.
“You don’t double down without increasing your resources,” Donohue told reporters after his annual “State of American Business” address at the group’s headquarters across from the White House. He did not offer a specific dollar amount on the group’s campaign spending or its lobbying tab, both of which are typically in the tens of millions, if not higher, each year.
The chamber’s policy agenda is long for a year that is expected to be short on legislating and heavy on politicking on Capitol Hill.
Donohue said next week he would unveil proposals on a signature priority to spur along new infrastructure projects. He noted he did not believe Congress would pony up $1 trillion or more, after just passing a $1.5 trillion tax overhaul, to fund new construction on roads, bridges and the like.
He also urged lawmakers not to imperil the nation’s credit with brinkmanship over the debt limit.
He said the chamber is working with the Trump administration and lawmakers to quickly resolve the fate of “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, and other immigrants whose legal status is in jeopardy.
“And think about who those people are: They’re our neighbors, the people that work with us in our businesses, they’re people that provide everything from medical service to repairing our cars,” Donohue said. “The American people, they come together on some very interesting things. My view is, they’ll come together on that.”
The chamber also plans to push for Senate passage of a bill that would make it harder for federal agencies to promulgate new regulations. Donohue said it would help codify the successes the business community has seen during the Trump administration to roll back regulations from the Obama presidency that stifled innovation and job creation.
On the health care front, Donohue said that businesses would work with the administration to deal with “regulatory burdens” stemming from the 2010 health law.
Noting a growing backlash to the technology sector, he also warned of new regulations aimed at Silicon Valley. “We must be careful that this ‘techlash’ doesn’t result in broad regulatory overreach that stifles innovation and stops positive advancements in their tracks,” he said.
And while acknowledging the political risks for elected officials in pursuing overhauls of the nation’s entitlement programs, such as Medicare, he threw his group’s weight behind a push by some on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, to overhaul such programs.
“There is no greater threat to our country’s long-term economic security than unsustainable entitlements,” he said.
The chamber, meanwhile, plans to push for solutions to the opioid epidemic and is pressing the administration not to withdraw from free trade agreements.
Overall, the state of U.S. business is strong and “optimism is rising,” Donohue said.