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The economy is getting stronger and should grow faster in 2014 than it did in 2013, but alongside the positive signs are big question marks surrounding trade policy, government spending, health care, and regulations, among other issues, that could act as a drag on the economy and job creation, according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue. During his annual State of American Business address to nearly 200 audience members and 100 members of the media, Donohue offered the Chamber’s policy prescriptions outlined in its 2014 Jobs, Growth, and Opportunity agenda. Highlights of Donohue's speech are excerpted below.
"Now it’s time to move quickly to pass Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA. TPA allows Congress to set negotiating objectives for new trade pacts. It requires the executive branch to consult with Congress. And it gives Congress the final say on any trade agreement in the form of an up-or-down vote ... We are within striking distance of concluding a [Trans-Pacific Partnership] agreement that is critical to America’s economic and strategic leadership in the world’s fastest growing region. But we must have a high-quality agreement that opens markets for manufacturers, farmers, and service providers—and fosters the digital and creative economies. And TPP must include a strong intellectual property plank in order to earn our unqualified support and that of Congress."
"America’s new era of energy abundance gives us an unrivaled opportunity to transform the United States from a nation dependent on imports to a significant energy exporter. It means we can continue to attract new manufacturing and, over time, trillions of dollars of investments to our country. Yet the progress we’ve made so far has come about largely in spite of national policy rather than because of it. We need to thoughtfully open more federal lands onshore and offshore. And, we must remove and guard against unnecessary restrictions, delays, and regulations."
(video by Erik Sulcs/U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
On Infrastructure Investment
"The Chamber will work for a multi-year reauthorization of the nation’s core surface transportation program, which expires at the end of September. And, we’re asking Congress to complete work on a major water resources bill as soon as possible."
On Entitlement Programs
"The recent improvement in the budget deficit is only temporary. We still have a serious overspending problem. We’re still piling up debt. And entitlement programs are the primary cause. Last year, the Chamber began an effort to wake up the nation to this reality. It hasn’t been easy—but we’re not going to rest or stop. This is the most predictable crisis in American history ... Producing more energy can help generate new revenues to pay for entitlements, and stronger economic growth is essential. But even that won’t be enough. It’s time for our leaders to act like leaders, tell the American people the truth, and craft a fair, sensible plan to reform and save these vital programs."
On Health Care
"In 2014, we will work to repeal onerous health care taxes; repeal, delay, or change the employer mandate; and give companies and their employees more flexibility in the choice of health insurance plans ... All responsible parties need to work together and be more open to change—because this nation still needs true health care reform that controls costs, improves quality, and expands access to the uninsured."
"The nation is in the midst of an historic expansion of regulatory activity. Federal agencies are churning out 4,000 new regulations every year ... In 2014 the Chamber will continue to work directly with the federal agencies and with Congress to win changes and improvements to Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and many other regulations. And when these efforts fall short and regulators insist on overstepping their bounds, we will head to the courts and sue.
We’re also making the case that government needs to reform the way it writes and enacts new rules and regulations. The Chamber is building support for legislation that would modernize the regulatory system, streamline the permitting process, and blunt the abusive practice of 'Sue and Settle.'"
On Tax Reform
"We need comprehensive pro-growth reform that lowers rates on both the corporate and individual sides of the code and increases our global competitiveness. And we must simplify a system that has been accurately called a monstrosity."
On Legal Reform
"On the federal level, we helped convince the House to pass the FACT Act, which will attack fraud and double-dipping in the asbestos settlement process. We’re now asking the Senate to follow suit. We also need reasonable reforms in the False Claims Act. This is an important tool to uncover and punish fraud by government contractors. But it is also being stretched and abused in ways that actually discourage companies from developing strong compliance systems, or from coming forward with reports of mistakes or instances of wrongdoing."
On the 2014 elections
"In primaries and in the general election, we will support candidates who want to work within the legislative process to solve the nation’s problems—and who understand that business is not the problem, business is a big part of the solution ... The Chamber will work to protect and expand a pro-business majority in the House and advance our position in the Senate. The business community understands what’s at stake. They respect our political team, support our strategy, and understand the powerful impact our brand can have in pivotal elections. This means we will have all the resources we need to run the most effective political program of 2014."
On Expanding Opportunity for All
"The fact that we have many Americans who are successful is not a problem. The fact that many Americans don’t get a fair chance to succeed is a problem. Let’s focus on the real problem and do something about it.We know what doesn’t work.Getting stuck in stagnant growth, as has been the case for the past five years, doesn’t work. And doubling down on the policies of tax, spend, regulate, and mandate won’t work.
So let’s talk about what will work. Instead of devising more ways to slice up the existing economic pie, let’s seize all of the opportunities we have to expand the economic pie. And then, we must help those who are struggling by ensuring that they have the education, skills, incentives, and opportunities to share in this prosperity ... We must ensure that every young person learns basic skills and is properly equipped for jobs and careers that are actually going to exist in the 21st century. Immigration reform is important to expanding opportunity as well. Why? Because throughout our history immigrants have brought innovation, ideas, investment, and dynamism to American enterprise."
Click here to read Donohue's entire speech.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman reacts to Donohue's State of American Business address. (video by Erik Sulcs/U.S. Chamber of Commerce)