Thank you, Ashli—and good afternoon, everyone! It’s wonderful to be in Kentucky and to see some friends in the audience.
Leader McConnell—it is an honor to be here with you today. The U.S. Chamber is proud to call you a partner and ally on Capitol Hill.
Joe Craft is here—as you all know, he is not just a leader of the Kentucky business community, he served on the U.S. Chamber Board for a number of years and we greatly benefitted from his stewardship. We also worked closely with Kelly Craft when she was Ambassador to Canada. I was just down in Mexico working with some of our partners in government there—making sure they are holding up their end of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. That deal supports $10 billion in Kentucky exports—there wouldn’t be an agreement without the leadership of Ambassador Craft and it wouldn’t be law without Leader McConnell.
I want to recognize my dear friend Leslie Sarasin—a daughter of Kentucky who now leads the Food Marketing Institute in Washington.
I also want to thank Ashli and Kentucky Chamber for the warm welcome. This time last week, Ashli and I were together in Texas for a gathering of the top chamber executives from around the country. Ashli is a leader among her peers and the Kentucky business community is lucky to have her at the helm of this organization. She’s also a member of the U.S. Chamber’s board, and we’re proud to work closely with her and her team—they are some of our strongest state partners on vital issues like workforce, infrastructure, and civics.
Many of you may not know this, but the U.S. Chamber was founded 110 years ago—this month—by state and local chambers from across this country. They needed a unified and powerful voice in Washington. And for the past 110 years, the U.S. Chamber has been that voice; partnering with state chambers like this one; and working with elected officials to serve the interests of our members...the American businesses who create jobs, solve problems, lead innovation, drive our economy, and make life better for all of us.
We know that businesses everywhere face significant headwinds today: inflation, supply chain disruptions, worker shortages, rising energy costs, the lingering effects of the pandemic—and a war in Europe that has made many of those challenges worse.
It’s a remarkably complex time to lead or run a business.
And we know that Washington can help—or make it harder. Case-in-point, some of you may have heard Senator Bernie Sanders say in a Banking Committee hearing last week that business is to blame for rising prices. He calls it “Corporate greed.” This blatant political falsehood only increases the likelihood that policymakers will misdiagnose the real causes—potentially prolonging inflation and risking a recession.
This line of attack is also straight out of the progressive, socialist playbook to reject free enterprise in favor of more government control. Thankfully, we have elected officials like Leader McConnell who are a ballast against anti-business and anti-free market forces.
Today, I want to highlight three ways we are working with him and his pro-business colleagues to ensure federal policy supports the economy and the communities where you live, work, run businesses, and create opportunity.
The first is personnel. There’s an old adage in Washington: “personnel is policy.” Those who hold key posts are empowered to write the rules, particularly in the federal agencies.
The Biden administration has a steady pipeline of nominees for vital roles in government, some of whom are guided by sharply ideological and even radical views ... some of whom are outwardly hostile to business. But the Chamber, and our allies, have helped block some of the most concerning nominees.
Last month, senators from both sides of the aisle came together to defeat the nomination of David Weil, President Biden’s pick to lead the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. This nominee would have brought his Big Labor agenda to this influential post, harming businesses, employees, gig workers—and undermining the economic recovery. The Chamber and other business associations first exposed his agenda and then kept the pressure on the moderate, more business-minded Democrats we work with—and they cast the deciding votes.
Sometimes we can defeat nominees before there is even a vote. That was the case earlier this year with Sarah Bloom Raskin, the nominee for the Federal Reserve’s Vice Chairman for Banking Supervision. We worked with the Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee to expose her radical agenda to use the power of the Federal Reserve to pick winners and losers in the market with our domestic fossil fuel producers on the losing side. Bipartisan opposition prompted her to withdraw her nomination.
Then there is the former nominee for one of the top banking regulators. A professor educated at Moscow State University in the 1980s, Saule Omarova had just two years ago written a paper detailing how we could replace the checking accounts with private banks with a system in which we would all bank with the Federal Reserve. It makes you wonder is anyone in the administration vetting these people.
Those were important victories for business. But we are still contending with many federal agency leaders who are in positions that can do some real harm.
FTC Commissioner Lina Khan has sought to consolidate power at the Federal Trade Commission. To what end? In her own words, to “shape the distribution of power and opportunity across our economy.” And right now she’s trying to do just that by aggressively clamping down on mergers and acquisitions. Coupled with the Biden administration’s so-called Competition Executive Order and bipartisan attempts to rewrite anti-trust laws, the dynamism and competitiveness of our economy is at stake—and the Chamber is fighting back.
At the same time, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler is pushing an aggressive agenda to expand the power and scope of the agency, including some 50 new proposals. The latest is a highly prescriptive approach to ESG reporting that will force companies to report information that is not material to investors. The focus now is climate, but on the horizon is human capital. The SEC is considering a proposal for mandatory disclosures on companies’ employees—and the implications could be staggering, encompassing everything from benefits and compensation to workforce turnover and demographics. If this isn’t on your radar, it should be.
The good news is that we have tools to fight back—up to and including the courts. On behalf of our members, the U.S. Chamber’s Litigation Center is prolifically active in state and federal courts across the country—as well as the Supreme Court, where we prevailed 85% of the time in the last session. The Litigation Center has filed 3,000 amicus briefs, including a record of more than 230 last year alone.
The courts are the last line of defense against policies—and personnel—harmful to business. So Leader McConnell’s work over the years to confirm judges who will give businesses a fair shake in the court system—and who won’t give regulators free reign—is a lasting investment in our country’s future.
Our opponents don’t like that we are fighting back so they want to change the rules to try and stop the business community from engaging in the courts, in advocacy, and in politics. I mentioned earlier the SEC’s regulatory agenda. One item that they would like to be pursuing, but they are not, is regulating corporate political engagement. The reason they are not pursuing it? When they tried this back in the Obama administration, Senator McConnell managed to get a provision enacted into law to protect our first amendment rights.
This Congress, when the Democratic majority tried to ram through another bill to limit political speech, the misnamed “For the People” Act, the Chamber was proud to work with the Leader to make sure it wouldn’t pass.
It isn’t just about blocking things, we work with pro-business leaders to advance shared priorities.
I’ve heard Leader McConnell talk about finding victories between the 40-yard lines—at the Chamber, we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we stood with the Senate on passage of historic bipartisan infrastructure legislation—and pushed the House to finish the job. We are finally going to fix the Brent Spence Bridge!
We also shared the long-view that separating the badly needed infrastructure bill from the just-plain-bad reconciliation package was critical to victory. That actually wasn’t a widely-held view at the time. Leader McConnell and the Chamber endured quite a bit of criticism, including from some House Republicans—but it proved to be the winning strategy. Infrastructure got done, and reconciliation is all but dead.
There was another benefit to getting infrastructure done that is not well understood. It proved that the Senate can get reasonable things done without getting rid of the filibuster. I truly believe that passage of the infrastructure bill saved the filibuster.
But there’s no time for resting on laurels—many challenges and opportunities lie ahead. And we’ll have a better sense of where they lie on that spectrum after November.
Under a Senate Majority Leader McConnell, we could take some serious threats off the table—tax hikes, runaway spending that fuels inflation, Big Labor’s PRO Act, the Trial Bar’s Fair Act.
We could pursue some priorities to make our country safer and stronger—a rational energy policy that allows us to produce the energy we need to run our economy and ensure our security, even as we take steps to mitigate climate change. It’s not a binary choice. We are a great nation and can do both.
We could deal with the challenges at our borders while also debating a rational immigration policy that legally welcomes global talent to help fill worker shortages. It’s not a binary choice. We can do both.
And we might see more of the pragmatic deal-making by President Biden that helped him win the White House. They have a proven record of working together, finding common ground, and getting things done.
A final—critical—way we work with our partners in Washington is by promoting the principles that have made our nation an enduring beacon of freedom in the world.
Democracy is the strongest platform for progress. Free enterprise is the ultimate competitive advantage. Together, they allow people to choose their leaders, chart their destinies, and pursue their dreams.
The war in Ukraine is a searing reminder that these things are precious and fragile. As we speak, Ukrainians are fighting and dying for them. All of us here have a role in fortifying our democracy and the free enterprise system that supports it.
For the business community’s part, that means getting louder. Too often, the debate is dominated by the extremists because they are the loudest and most outrageous, and drown out the voices of reason. The voices of reason need to be heard.
We need to unapologetically stand up for the free enterprise system that allowed our nation to build the most dynamic, diverse, and resilient economy in history. We need to support elected officials who understand that businesses are stakeholders in our democracy—and that when businesses are allowed to succeed, our country succeeds.
Together, let’s show what democracy can offer. Let’s show what free enterprise can deliver. And let’s harness the talent and energy of free people striving for better lives for the betterment of this country.
I’m thankful to have strong partners and principled leaders standing up for American business during this remarkably complex and consequential time for our great nation. And I want to thank each of you here today for all you do to strengthen your communities, support families, serve customers, and solve problems.
Thank you very much.