Jan 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

Why Faster Economic Growth Must Be America's Top Priority


Senior Editor, Digital Content

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2017 State of American Business address with U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue.
2017 State of American Business address with U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue.
U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue delivers the 2017 State of American Business address.

For eight years, our country has endured economic policies that have resulted in sluggish economic growth. When faced with a choice between growing the economy and pushing his ideological agenda, President Barack Obama chose the latter. 

The slow 1% to 2% economic growth we’ve experienced since the end of the Great Recession isn’t enough to grow jobs, incomes, and opportunities.

But a new era is coming to Washington. As U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue said at the State of American Business address, “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.”

"It’s very clear what our nation’s top priority must be: to restore our country to vigorous economic growth in order to expand jobs, incomes, and opportunities for all Americans," Donohue declared.

Faster economic growth not only creates more good-paying jobs and boosts wages, it brings in more tax revenue allowing us to improve our infrastructure, invest in education, and support a strong national defense.

More growth gives the government the must-needed flexibility to reform our entitlement programs and stabilize federal spending.

Maybe most important, faster growth instills hope and revives belief in the American Dream that has been lost for too many Americans.

Economic growth can’t solve all our country’s problems, but without it we won’t be able to solve any of them.

In order to grow the economic pie, every policy proposal—whether it is covers regulations, trade, energy, infrastructure, entitlement programs, education, taxes, or legal issues--must be judged on whether it will support or impede growth.

“Government cannot create wealth or generate growth. It cannot grow the pie. It can only rearrange it, and more often it shrinks the pie for everyone,” Donohue explained. “It is American free enterprise—embodied in some 30 million businesses of every size—that spurs the growth, generates the wealth, creates the jobs, and expands the opportunities.”

Donohue laid out the U.S. Chamber's American Growth Agenda, a set of pro-growth policy priorities Washington should enact.

In addition, in light of last fall’s election, Donohue advised leaders to listen more—especially from businesses:

Americans sent another message as well—that not all the wisdom resides in Washington or in New York or in big government, big media, or even in big business.

We agree—and so to fill in the outline I have offered today—and perhaps add to it—we will soon convene a series of regional growth summits across the nation in partnership with state, metro, and local chambers of commerce. At these summits, it will be the small businesses, the entrepreneurs, and the local employers who will do the talking. We’ll do the listening.

We’ll gather up what we’ve learned and convene the final summit here at the Chamber. We’re going to invite leaders in our new government to come—so that they can do some listening.

The businesspeople Washington should listen to are the ones who fight the battle for the country’s shared economic success every day. They are the ones who see an opportunity, who take a risk, who work unimaginable hours, and who put up with all the roadblocks and bureaucratic nonsense from government at all levels. They are the backbone of our great free enterprise economy—and today that backbone is under tremendous stress and strain.

“The truest and most positive form of populism rests in those many millions of small, medium, and large companies," Donohue noted.

By listening our leaders will have a better sense of what policies Americans need to generate faster economic growth that creates jobs and increases economic opportunities for all.

 

Here are some highlights from the 2017 State of American Business address.


Regulatory Relief and Reform

We need regulatory relief and regulatory reform. There is no justification for the regulatory overkill we have seen over the last eight years.

No one has been hurt more by this overkill than America’s small businesses. Small companies account for much of the innovation and more than 60 percent of the new job creation in our country. An unelected fourth branch of government—the regulatory branch—is holding our small business sector back while imposing unnecessary costs on larger companies too.

As important as it is, regulatory relief alone is not enough. We need to reform the regulatory process itself.

For several years, the Chamber has been leading the fight for the Regulatory Accountability Act. 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. It would be the first major update to how federal agencies write rules in 70 years.

Health Care

The new Congress is already preparing its first steps towards repealing Obamacare. That’s the easy part. The hard part—replacing it—will take much longer. 

The business community recognizes that there are many problems with Obamacare. Topping the list is the employer mandate, and all the reporting requirements that go with it. Then there are taxes such as the health insurance tax, the medical device tax, and the so-called Cadillac tax—all which will drive up the cost of health care.

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

Dodd-Frank and Financial Regulations

Policymakers have saddled the financial services industry with Dodd-Frank and many flawed regulations—such as the Volcker Rule and excessive and duplicative layers of capital rules. And that’s on top of rules emerging from international bodies and agreements.

Last fall the Chamber’s capital markets center released its report, “Restarting the Growth Engine: A Plan to Reform America’s Capital Markets.” This blueprint for financial regulatory reform includes over 100 recommendations, covering everything from repealing and replacing the Fiduciary Rule… to reforming the regulatory processes of the Federal Reserve…to holding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau accountable.

Energy

Everyone is talking about how they want more things that are Made in the U.S.A. How about American energy?

We’ve got to prudently develop the abundant natural resources our country has been blessed with—and put them to work for our economy, our workers, our consumers, and governments at all levels.

We can do this while expanding emission-free sources like nuclear and renewables and pressing for greater gains in clean energy and energy efficiency.

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.

Infrastructure

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

To get this important work off the ground, we need a permitting process that works quickly and efficiently.

And yes, we need money. Private sector funding can and should play a much greater role in infrastructure.

Even so, a sustainable, long-term federal funding source must also be part of the equation.

Pro-Growth Tax Reform

Our current tax code is suffocating American businesses and frustrating American families.

We need to lower the business tax rate, which is now the highest in the industrialized world when you add in state taxes. We need to significantly lower individual tax rates as well. Millions of small businesses file as pass through entities, and their marginal rates can exceed 50 percent in some states.

We also need to institute an internationally competitive system of taxation. Currently, when a company based in America earns money overseas, that money gets taxed twice. First in the country where it’s earned, and then again by the U.S. government. The U.S. is one of the only major economies that imposes that second tax.

Pro-growth tax reform should also end the current bias against capital investment. All capital investments should either be expensed or recovered using a significantly improved capital cost recovery system.

Expanding American Trade

If we want more growth, more trade would help a lot.

The president-elect says he wants to expand trade and negotiate strong, new trade deals for our country. We agree.

These new agreements should lower the barriers raised by other countries against exports of American products and services. They should protect intellectual property and our digital industries through tough enforcement. They should ensure that the investments our companies make abroad are protected by the rule of law, on a level playing field. And they should provide for the efficient, seamless, and safe movement of goods and data across borders.

The bottom line is that if we are going to “Hire American,” we are going to have to “Sell American”—sell our goods and services to the 95 percent of the world’s customers who don’t live in the United States.

Trade is already an enormous benefit to our domestic economy, to our small businesses, to the American consumer, and to the 40 million American workers whose jobs depend on trade.

Our big challenge is how to preserve and expand these benefits while also helping those workers and communities who have been hurt—not just by trade but by technology, automation, and the realities of a global economy.

Education and Workforce Training

We also need new thinking when it comes to training Americans for the jobs of the future. Many of these jobs require specialized training and lifelong learning—but not necessarily an expensive four-year college degree. And you can make a damn good living doing these jobs.

So, we need to help young people, as well as adults who need retraining, obtain credentials—degree, certificate, or otherwise—that are valued in the labor market. We need to encourage work-based learning opportunities and develop more partnerships between local business communities and local educators.

Advancing Legal Reform and Fighting Abusive Prosecution

When you talk to potential job creators, excessive litigation is one of the first things they mention that is holding them back.

This year, the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform sees significant opportunities to advance its goals—such as fighting third party litigation financing and defending arbitration. ILR will also work to ensure medical liability reform is included during the coming debate over health care. And, it will fight trial lawyer fraud and abuse in asbestos lawsuits.

Just as troubling as lawsuit abuse is the legal extortion whereby government prosecutors, regulators and agencies force companies to fork over billions and billions of dollars in penalties and settlements.

These extorters know that most companies have no choice but to surrender. The alternative is to risk the whole enterprise with an indictment, which could include the loss of any business with the government.

The American people have a right to know where all these billions of dollars collected by government agencies are going. The Chamber is going to explore these questions in the weeks ahead and we urge the new administration, the new Congress, and the media to do the same.

About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth standing in front of oil pumps near Baker, Montana.
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean has written for various Chamber properties since 2012. In 1999, Sean launched a “weblog” and never looked back, becoming a self-proclaimed pioneer of the medium.