January 31, 2023


The head of the United States Chamber of Commerce used her annual speech on the state of U.S. business to tear into government gridlock and overregulation, saying that businesses were becoming pessimistic about their own prospects because of politics.  

U.S. Chamber President and CEO Suzanne Clark said that, while many companies say their business is doing well, they express concern about the overall state of the economy and confidence in the government to do the right thing.  

“In fact, we’ve heard this mixed sentiment so much that we gave it a name: 'secondhand pessimism,'" Clark said during her annual “State of American Business” address. “And the risk is that secondhand pessimism becomes firsthand — that fears about the economy, compounded by doubt in Washington, push businesses to act in a way that turns those concerns into reality.”  

Clark said that while businesses are inherently optimistic, they have to fight back “creeping pessimism” because the country is capable of “surmounting big challenges.” She also noted the partisan squabbling in Congress.  

“And today, business demands better from our government. Because when it comes to Washington, the state of American business is fed up,” said Clark. “The polarization, the gridlock, the overreach, and the inability to act smartly and strategically for our future is making it harder for all of us to do our jobs, fulfill our roles, and move this country forward.”  

As for the areas in which the government is failing business, Clark spoke about energy policy, the border crisis, government permitting, regulations, and trade.  

She accused both Democratic and Republican administrations of pursuing “maximalist” regulatory agendas that end up being reversed by the other party or the next administration.  

“Beyond the deep frustration, what does this really mean? It means businesses don’t have the clarity or the certainty to plan past the next political cycle. It means our country won’t be able to advance an agenda that extends beyond two to four years, or pass the policies needed to position us for our future,” Clark added.  

The remarks come as the United States still faces the hottest inflation in four decades, with inflation rising 6.5% in the 12 months ending in December. While inflation has been falling, it is still more than three times what the Federal Reserve considers healthy.  

Additionally, as the Fed has had to fight inflation by raising interest rates, the prospect of a recession has become ever more likely, despite the country’s surprisingly resilient labor market.  

Clark’s speech follows Republicans regaining the House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) being sworn into office last week. The chamber is in a peculiar position with House Republicans. While the business group has long had enormous sway and influence over the GOP, conservative lawmakers have promised to limit its influence in the new Congress.  

The tiff began when the chamber endorsed several Democratic House candidates in the 2020 election. Those who ended up becoming lawmakers all voted for President Joe Biden’s now-defunct Build Back Better legislation — despite chamber opposition.  

Given that more than a dozen of the chamber-endorsed candidates won election in 2020 and Democrats wrested control of the House by a smaller margin than that, Republicans were enraged by what they saw as the chamber’s betrayal of the party and pro-business policies.   

“I didn’t even know the chamber was around anymore,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News in the run-up to last year’s midterm elections.  

McCarthy has vowed not to allow the chamber to wield the same measure of influence among Republicans it has enjoyed in the past.  

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