In the News: 2017 State of American Business | U.S. Chamber of Commerce
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In the News: 2017 State of American Business

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U.S. Chamber ticks off energy, healthcare, taxes and infrastructure among 2017 priorities

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

By Gina Hall

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged the nation’s leaders on Wednesday to make economic growth a top priority.

Chamber CEO Thomas J. Donohue said his lobbying group sees a once-in-a-generation opportunity for policymakers to enact major reforms to transform America from a “low-growth to a high-growth economy.”

“At this moment of significant transition for our country, American businesses large and small are optimistic about the year ahead — optimistic and also realistic about the hard work that will be required to make our optimism a reality,” Donohue said in his annual “State of American Business” address.

Donohue also unveiled and outlined an “American Growth Agenda” for 2017, a set of policy recommendations that the organization claims will help expand jobs, incomes and opportunities for Americans. The U.S. Chamber’s priorities include increasing energy production, modernizing the nation’s infrastructure and overhauling the tax code.

In an effort to forward its agenda, the U.S. Chamber plans to gather local chambers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, employers and employees for a series of regional summits.

“We’re going to create a powerful grassroots business army, made up of businesses of all sizes from all sectors, and ensure that no one can ignore their voice – not in policy, not in politics, not in government, and not in the public square,” Donohue said.

The group also plans to work closely with lawmakers and insurers on the challenges facing American healthcare.

“As a new healthcare plan takes shape, it is important to remember that things were far from perfect before Obamacare,” Donohue noted. “Repeal alone will not fix our healthcare system. And, there should be an adequate transition between the current system and a new plan.”

The U.S. Chamber hopes to capitalize on the optimism small-to-medium sized business owners (SMB) have for 2017. According to a recent Business Journals SMB Insight study, more than 80 percent of these entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future success of their companies. That’s the highest that number has been in 10 years. The survey and answers were fielded the day after the Presidential election.

The U.S. Chamber is encouraged by the upcoming Trump administration’s stance on business growth.

“So far, we’re encouraged by the strong emphasis that President-elect Trump, Vice President-elect Pence, and the House and Senate leadership have placed on economic growth as a priority,” Donohue said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation, representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.

U.S. business lobby wants smooth Obamacare repeal, warns on trade

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

By Ginger Gibson

The largest U.S. business lobby group on Wednesday said it could be a mistake to quickly repeal Obamacare without developing a replacement healthcare insurance plan and urged the Trump administration not to erect trade barriers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce faces challenges with the incoming Trump administration, including overcoming deep divisions on key issues like trade while trying to work together on common goals like repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The group opposed the healthcare law, which extended medical coverage to millions of Americans, as an unnecessary burden on business. The Republican-controlled Congress earlier this month began working to repeal it.

"As a new healthcare plan takes shape, it's important to remember things were far from perfect before we started, before Obamacare," Chamber President Tom Donohue said in his annual address outlining the group's priorities.

"Repeal alone is not going to fix our health care, there should be a smooth transition."

The lobby group has historically been tightly aligned with Republicans, especially during the Obama administration when it fought against the healthcare law and criticized what it saw as heavy-handed regulation of the financial sector.

But it has clashed with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump over his positions on trade and immigration.

Trump has threatened large taxes against companies that produce goods in other countries and import them into the United States - a move that would be counter to the U.S. Chamber's desire to allow for free trade across international boarders.

Many in corporate America worry that if the Republican businessman-turned-politician begins to levy taxes against imported goods, nations like China will in turn impose large taxes and fees against U.S. goods that are exported there.

"It's important that the new administration does not add to the burdens facing our exporters or the thousands whose jobs depend on exports by erecting barriers to trade," Donohue said.

He argued that the agreement, even if recreated under a different name, would bring "significant geopolitical and security benefits."

"(Trump) knows the value of trade in terms of economic growth," Donohue said.

WORKING WITH ADMINISTRATION

Donohue also predicted that U.S. interest rates would rise this year, impacting the dollar and making it more difficult for American companies to compete in foreign markets.

In trying to work with the administration on trade, Donohue said Trump's selection of people to work in his administration, including Wilbur Ross to lead the Commerce Department, is encouraging.

"The two things I've been most impressed by with this new administration is the quality and the capability of people they’ve appointed," he said.

On issues where the Chamber agrees with Trump, Donohue renewed calls to roll back regulations imposed by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and said he agreed with calls to change the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has been opposed by Republicans who say it restricts lending.

"If this organization is going to be kept - it ought to be kept - it ought to have three, five or various commissioners," Donohue said.

Chamber chief calls on Trump to kill wide range of Obama regulations

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

By Dave Boyer

The president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called on President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-majority Congress Wednesday to roll back Obama-era regulations on clean power plants and health care while pursuing new trade deals and immigration reform.

“On January 20th, President Trump can begin to eliminate the regulatory burden imposed by executive orders,” said Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue. “We urge him to act immediately and continually. There is no justification for the regulatory overkill we have seen over the last eight years.”

In his annual address on the state of American business, Mr. Donohue said American employers forecast economic growth of 2 percent to 2.5 percent this year, with two or three hikes in interest rates by the Federal Reserve.

“Business is optimistic because we see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact major reforms that could transform the American economy from a low-growth to a high-growth economy,” he said. “With their votes, Americans sent a strong message. They want a real change in the country’s economic course.”

Mr. Trump has pledged to rescind a significant number of Obama administration regulations, from repealing Obamacare to easing restrictions on energy production. Mr. Donohue that the Chamber’s legal team will have “a very busy year.”

“The process for tackling other excessive regulations — from the overtime rule to the ‘waters of the U.S. rule’ to the Clean Power Plan to Net Neutrality — will take longer. So let’s get started,” he said.

Chamber President urges focus on long-term benefits of tax reform

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

By Naomi Jagoda

U.S. Chamber of Commerce officials on Wednesday said that stakeholders shouldn’t focus just on specific tax-reform provisions and instead should evaluate a tax overhaul bill as a whole on whether it would stimulate economic growth.

“We are going to encourage everyone — including our own members — to look beyond the immediate impacts of various proposals and consider the longer-term benefits this reform can bring to our country,” Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue said in his speech on the state of American business in 2017.

“This is necessary because this is going to be a series of changes,” he added. “We have to look at the whole system.”

The House Ways and Means Committee is developing tax-reform legislation based on a blueprint House Republicans released in June. Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) has described the plan as “built for growth.”

A number of business groups, particularly in the retail industry, are pushing back against a provision in the blueprint, known as “border adjustment,” that would tax imports and exempt exports. They argue that it would increase the prices of goods for consumers.

Lawmakers have defended the proposal, saying it would remove incentives for companies to move jobs overseas.

Neil Bradley, incoming senior vice president and chief policy officer at the Chamber, said that the group is still reviewing the border-adjustment proposal and is trying to get a better understanding of it.

“Whether you’re for it or against it, it’s a major shift in terms of how the U.S. taxes businesses,” he said during a press conference after the speech. “I think it’s important to understand the details of what those would mean and get them right.”

In his speech, Donohue advocated for lower tax rates for individuals and businesses and implement an “internationally competitive system of taxation.” He criticized the fact that U.S. companies currently have to pay both U.S. and foreign taxes on their foreign earnings.

Donohue also said that tax reform should “end the current bias against capital investment.”

The priorities Donohue mentioned are reflected in the House Republicans’ blueprint. The plan would lower the top individual tax rate to 33 percent and the corporate rate to 20 percent. It would also allow businesses to immediately write off the costs of their capital investments.

US Chamber of Commerce 'encouraged' by Trump business focus

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

By Joseph Lawler

President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence have encouraged the business community in the early going, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce declared Wednesday morning.

Delivering an address at the business lobby's headquarters across a park from the White House, chamber CEO Thomas Donohue said that "so far, we're encouraged by the strong emphasis that President-elect Trump, Vice President-elect Pence, and the House and Senate leadership have placed on economic growth as a priority."

Donohue's blessing of the Trump transition during his annual speech was part of a larger roll-out that included a print op-ed and a television appearance of the business group's plan to work with the Republican majority.

That approach was not always the obvious path forward. During the GOP primary, Donohue criticized Trump's stances on trade and immigration, two perennial top concerns for businesses.

But Trump appears to have allayed those fears by choosing business-friendly advisers and penciling in major tax cut and infrastructure spending efforts.

Nevertheless, Donohue indicated that the group remains worried about the prospect of new trade barriers in a Trump administration. Especially given the possibility of a stronger dollar crimping exports, "it is important that the new administration does not add to the burdens facing our exporters — or to the millions of American workers whose jobs depend on exports — by erecting barriers to trade."

He also called for "a serious deliberation" on achieving the business and diplomatic goals of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the major Pacific-nation trade agreement negotiated by President Obama that Trump ran against.

U.S. Chamber to help Trump slash rules, push infrastructure

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

By Arianna Skibell

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue this morning said the business behemoth would work with President-elect Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress to reform the regulatory system, expand America's energy industry and build infrastructure to support energy production.

"To start, we need regulatory relief and regulatory reform. There is no justification for the regulatory overkill we have seen over the last eight years," Donohue said during his State of American Business address at the group's Washington headquarters this morning.

"An unelected fourth branch of government — the regulatory branch — is holding our small business and others back while imposing unnecessary costs on all of the American system," he said.

Donohue joined conservative groups in urging Trump to quickly eliminate a large swath of existing measures by executive order. He added that Congress can use the Congressional Review Act to join the rule-killing effort.

Congressional Republicans are working to prioritize rules to hit with the CRA. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) yesterday said the Interior Department's recently finalized Stream Protection Rule was "high on the list" of potential targets (E&E Daily, Jan. 11).

The Bureau of Land Management's methane rule is another likely candidate, a GOP aide said, and House Democrats are already trying to rally support behind both regulations (Greenwire, Jan. 10).

But, Donohue said, some rules will be harder to undo — like the Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule and the Clean Power Plan.

"They need to be addressed. It will have to be done through the system. So let's get started," Donohue said.

Conservative group Freedom Partners has been on the Hill this week meeting with Republicans to offer its own strategy for undoing Obama administration actions (E&E Daily, Jan. 10).

Reforming the system

Donohue stressed the importance of not just rolling back certain regulations but also reforming the way regulations are promulgated in the first place.

The Chamber of Commerce has been a staunch advocate of the "Regulatory Accountability Act," H.R. 5, which the House is expected to vote on tonight.

"This law would fundamentally transform how agencies implement major rules. And it would begin to restore the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches," Donohue said. "It would be the first major update to how federal agencies write rules in 70 years."

The "Regulatory Accountability Act" combines six reform measures the House passed in previous sessions of Congress. The measure would require federal agencies to identify the objective of a proposed rule and choose the lowest-cost alternative.

The legislation would also require agencies to publish information online about regulations being developed and the cost of those rules.

And the measure would amend the Regulatory Flexibility Act by requiring agencies to tally direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of new rules on small businesses.

Donohue said reforming the system is a top priority for this Congress. He also referenced bills the House passed during its first week in session and numerous pending proposals (E&E Daily, Jan. 6).

Energy, climate, infrastructure

Donohue stressed the need to promote the development of natural resources and domestic energy production.

"Everyone is talking about how they want to move more to things that are made in the USA," he said. "I got an idea of things to be made in the U.S. How about American energy?"

He advocated for expanding emission-free sources, like nuclear and renewables, and pushing for gains in clean energy and efficiency.

"Producing more energy also requires building more infrastructure," he said. "We can generate more growth and jobs by making America's infrastructure the best in the world."

To this end, Donohue said, Congress should "seize the opportunity" for bipartisan support for infrastructure development. Elaine Chao, Trump's pick to lead the Transportation Department, is testifying this morning on Capitol Hill.

"The projects we invest in must be determined by our national economic need for growth — not parochial politics," Donohue said.

"That means taking on large-scale projects — airports, seaports, pipelines, an expanded power grid, broadband, air traffic control, secure and efficient borders, and intermodal transportation links — projects that help the entire country."

Donohue said the private sector could help pay for those projects, along with a sustainable, long-term federal source. He noted the chamber has long been in favor of a slight increase in the federal gas tax, which hasn't gone up in 24 years.

"It happens to be the simplest, fairest and most straightforward solution. Maybe that's why it hasn't passed," Donohue joked. "We're open to other ideas."

Critics say the revenue would aid the Highway Trust Fund to build non-highway-related projects, hurt the middle class and increase the price of consumer goods.

At a news conference after the speech, Donohue said he was circulating a list within the government of top energy and environmental regulations he says should be reformed.

"When you talk about energy, you also talk about the environment," he said. "We believe in an environmental system that continues the long and successful program in the U.S. eliminating pollution and dealing with complicated discussions and legislation around global — whatever it's doing — climate change."

Donohue said the climate is certainly changing, as it has for the last 3 billion years. The question, he said, is to what extent humans are affecting that change.

"The question is what steps should we take to deal with those in terms of keeping the economy sound?" he said. "We want to be amongst the leaders in the world in doing things to continue to fight pollution and to work on climate change in a reasonable way."

Donohue: Consider Long-Term Benefits of Overhauling Tax Code

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

By Ryan Rainey

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue on Wednesday said members of his business organization should look beyond the near-term — and possibly negative — impacts of a broad tax-code overhaul and instead focus on how the change could benefit them in the long run.

“The chamber strongly supports expansive, pro-growth tax reform and we are going to encourage everyone, including our own members, to look beyond the immediate impacts of various proposals and consider the long-term benefits,” Donohue said Wednesday in his annual State of American Business address.

Factions within the business community have objected to some Republican tax priorities. Most notably, the House GOP plan contains a proposal known as border adjustability that would exempt taxation on exports but maintain taxes on imports. The size of a marginal rate cut also remains up for debate.

Donohue did not mention border adjustability in his speech, but he listed several components of tax reform he considers necessary that reflect longstanding chamber priorities, including cuts to both individual and business rates. He also said any tax overhaul must contain significant changes to how businesses can write off capital investment.

“All capital investments should be either expensed or recovered using a significantly improved capital cost recovery system,” Donohue said.

The call for full expensing lines up with what House Republicans proposed in their tax blueprint last year. Supporters of border adjustability say the provision for taxing imports could help offset the revenue losses from full expensing.

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer for the Chamber of Commerce, told reporters after the speech that the organization and its members are still reviewing the House Republicans’ border adjustment proposal.

“It’s fair to say, whether you’re for or against it, it’s a major shift in terms of how the U.S. taxes businesses,” Bradley said. “It’s important to understand the details of what those would mean and get those right. So we’re in the process of doing that.”

Chamber of Commerce to Trump: Don't mess with trade

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 3:45pm

By Aaron Smith

The leader of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said he's worried about President-elect Donald Trump's trade policies.

U.S. Chamber president and CEO Tom Donohue emphasized, in a speech on Wednesday, that 14 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico, "and much of that trade depends on [the North American Free Trade Agreement.]"

"That's why it is important that the new administration does not add to the burdens facing our exporters -- or to the millions of American workers whose jobs depend on exports -- by erecting barriers to trade," said Donohue.

Donohue added that since NAFTA is 23 years old, it could be "modernized and strengthened," but didn't provide details on how.

According to the Chamber, 40 million American jobs depend on international trade.

Trump trashed the North American Free Trade Agreement throughout his campaign, calling it the "worst trade deal in history" and vowing to repeal it. He has threatened to impose tariffs on imports, including a 35% tax on goods made in Mexico by U.S. companies such as Ford (F). He blamed cheap imports from Mexico and China for eroding U.S. manufacturing jobs.

In his first press conference as President-elect on Wednesday, Trump reiterated that any American companies that manufacture goods in other countries are "going to pay a very large border tax" when they import those products into the U.S.

Aside from trade, Donohue seemed to be supportive of Trump's policies and opposed to those of President Obama. He talked a lot about the fact that regulations are bad for business, and identified the Obama administration's top culprits as the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as well as regulations on the energy industry.

"Lawmakers should work quickly to rescind and replace the restrictive energy policies of the current administration so that we can unleash more growth and more jobs for Americans," Donohue said.

Projecting "modest" economic growth of 2% or 2.5% in 2017, Donohue also said he expects the Federal Reserve to hike its key interest rate two or three times.

Obama recently took credit for creating 15 million jobs since 2010, the lowest point for employment during his presidency.

U.S. Chamber courts Trump on Trade

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 3:30pm

By Doug Palmer

The voice of American business is choosing its words about President-elect Donald Trump’s trade policies very carefully in the hope of coaxing him into a direction it can support.

Rather than obsess over Trump’s threats to slap duties on China and Mexico, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce prefers to highlight the future commander in chief’s pledge to negotiate better trade deals for the United States. ...

Chamber Optimistic About New Labor Department Leadership

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 3:30pm

By Tyrone Richardson

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce could get help achieving its priorities for this year, given President-elect Donald Trump's business-friendly tone and his executive picks, Chamber President Thomas Donohue said Jan. 11.

Donohue is urging Trump and Congress to reverse regulation “overkill” at agencies such as the Labor Department and share some of the Chamber's concerns when it comes to discussing trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We'll also encourage the administration to remember that our trade with Canada and Mexico supports 14 million American jobs, and much of that depends on NAFTA,” Donohue said during his annual State of American Business speech. “But it's a fact that NAFTA is 23 years old, so we welcome the discussion on how it can be modernized and strengthened.”

Chamber Wants Involvement in Trade Talks

Trade has been a key issue for Trump. The president-elect has promised to renegotiate trade deals he has dubbed unfair and said have caused U.S. job losses. He specifically criticized NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed 12-nation deal that the Chamber has supported. Trump has promised to scrap NAFTA and TPP when he takes office.

Trump has bolstered his promise to tackle trade pacts with the formation of the National Trade Council, an advisory panel tasked with helping trade negotiations.

Donohue said Jan. 11 the TPP has some beneficial details.

“The TPP has a lot of stuff in it that has significant geopolitical and security benefits and massive opportunities to help drive economic growth,” he said to reporters after his speech. “We will have very positive and supportive conversations with the administration particularly on trade enforcement and making sure that the agreements of these arrangements are met and we support that.”

Puzder Prompts Optimism

Donohue also voiced optimism about working with many of Trump's cabinet picks. That includes DOL Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder, said Randel Johnson, senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the Chamber.

Chamber leadership is optimistic given Trump's choice for labor secretary, Johnson told Bloomberg BNA. The Chamber intends to address, through a combination of executive orders and new agency rules, the DOL's controversial rule to expand overtime to more workers and the fiduciary rule that imposes new conflict-of-interest restrictions on retirement investment brokers, he said.

“We are more optimistic that Andy will have a more pro-business sense than Tom Perez,” Johnson said, referring to the exiting labor secretary.

The Chamber's optimism comes a day after a group of Democrats criticized Trump's selection of Puzder. Several House and Senate Democrats, during a news conference at the Capitol Jan. 10, alleged that Puzder would be against protecting the rights of workers.

The lawmakers highlighted a recent Restaurant Opportunities Centers United-conducted survey that alleged wage violations and other abuses at fast-food establishments tied to CKE Restaurants Inc., of which Puzder is CEO.

“This is just outrageous,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said about the nominee to lead the DOL. “It should stand for workers, but instead President-elect Trump has nominated a multi-million dollar corporate head who treats his employees as disposable.”