Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
November 08, 2018
“Divided government does not – and cannot – mean gridlock.”
That was the message from U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue on a night that left each party claiming partial victory and holding control of one chamber of Congress. Senate Republicans expanded their majority while Democrats picked up more than enough seats in urban and suburban districts to take control of the House.
So what now?
“Now is the time for our elected leaders to train their focus on what can be achieved to keep up America’s economic momentum,” Donohue said. “There is much to do and no time to waste.”
Question is, what canbe achieved? Where’s the common ground, what’s now on the table for the business community and a pro-growth agenda, and what should you be watching for in the months ahead? Here are the five things business leaders should know about the midterm results.
Infrastructure: A new road forward
Despite concerns over deepening partisan gridlock, there’s renewed optimism that leaders in both parties could come together to move forward on one issue that has garnered widespread bipartisan agreement from voters, Congress and President Trump – rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.
Most Americans agree that our nation’s roads, bridges, mass transit systems, air and sea ports, and other major infrastructure assets are critical to our country’s economic success. However, those assets are in urgent need of repair, maintenance, and sustainable investment for the long term.
Of course, the sticking point has been how to pay for those repairs. In order to move forward, especially in this new political climate, compromise will be required. Republicans must drop their opposition to increasing user fees to pay for highways and transit, while Democrats must embrace permitting reforms and private-sector investments as key ingredients in any infrastructure deal.
The longer we wait to rebuild our infrastructure, the harder the decisions will be and the more the projects will cost. We have a real opportunity to get the job done in 2019.
Immigration: An immediate imperative
Our immigration system is similarly broken, and like our nation’s infrastructure, it fails to meet the needs of our society, our economy, our businesses, and our workers. Right now, more than a million legal workers are at risk of being kicked out of our country (including Dreamers), our borders aren’t secure, and our economy is paying the price.
The 116th Congress has an opportunity to finally fix our broken immigration system. But here, too, success will require bipartisan consensus and compromise in order to reach a deal. Democrats must agree to do more to secure our and enforce our immigration laws, for example, while Republicans must stop trying to reduce legal immigration and agree to provide legal status for many who have long resided in this country without such status.
Commonsense immigration reforms are necessary and possible in the months ahead, and they would boost economic growth, create jobs, and spur innovation and entrepreneurship.
America’s workforce: Closing the gaps
There’s plenty of chatter in Washington about the possibilities on the two issues above. Conversely, there’s very little discussion about what Tuesday’s results mean for another issue that affects every single business across the country: workforce shortages.
Right now, our country is grappling with two distinct but related workforce challenges. There’s the skills gap – that is, that too many people lack the skills necessary to compete for available jobs. And then there’s the people gap – too many businesses can’t find the workers they need, when and where they need them.
When you factor in the retirement of baby boomers, addiction and incarceration epidemics that have swept the nation, and technology and globalization factors, the result is more job openings than people looking for work.
Just as there is no one cause, there is no one single solution to our workforce challenges. What we do know is that business leaders and government leaders must work together to address these issues. We are calling on the bipartisan congressional leadership to make workforce challenges a top priority under the new Congress. Working with industry, Congress should pursue a multifaceted, bipartisan approach similar to the process used to pass comprehensive legislation addressing the opioid epidemic this year.
Looming threats: Risks on the horizon
On the flip side, there are new – and in some cases, renewed – legislative threats that could undermine our economic momentum and harm businesses and workers across the country. In particular, potential legislation on prescription drug prices, workplace employment regulations, and limits on arbitration could hobble businesses across numerous industries.
In addition, some candidates promised to try to nix or roll back key provisions of the tax reform package, which has been a boon for the economy, businesses, families, and workers. Chipping away at the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would be a major mistake that would take the wind out of our economy’s sails and threaten the enormous jobs gains of the past year.
Meanwhile, there’s the looming threat of another government shutdown as fierce debates continue over government spending and the debt limit. So while we all work toward some of the promising possibilities on areas like immigration, infrastructure, and workforce issues, Congress must avoid actions that would undermine the economic progress we have made in recent years.
Trade policy: Opportunity ahead
In October, the administration took an important step in reducing the uncertainty that had stymied North American trade – and two of our most important economic partnerships – when they struck an agreement on a new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). It was welcome news following months of escalating trade disputes between the U.S. and key trading partners like Canada, Mexico, China, and the European Union.
Still, steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, along with retaliatory tariffs on about $15 billion of American exports, remain in place, threatening our nation’s economic growth and leaving a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the 14 million U.S. jobs that are supported by trade with Canada and Mexico.
Couple those tariffs with those already implemented or proposed on China and the European Union, and we’re now up to $300 billion in U.S. tariffs and $150 billion in retaliatory tariffs imposed on American exports. Should all the proposed tariffs be implemented, nearly half a million American jobs would be in jeopardy.
In this new political environment, we’re counting on the administration to build on its progress and pursue sound trade policies that benefit American business, workers, and consumers.
Bonus: Common ground now an absolute must
If there’s a common theme among the five takeaways above, it’s that bipartisan consensus and compromise must be embraced by every member of the newly elected Congress. We have a real opportunity over the next two years to make major progress on some of the most important issues facing our country, but that opportunity will be missed if lawmakers don’t reach across the aisle and pursue common ground. Never has cooperation been more important, because – to reiterate Donohue’s statement – “there is much to do and no time to waste.” Let’s get to work.
About the authors
Neil Bradley is executive vice president, chief policy officer, and head of strategic advocacy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He has spent two decades working directly with congressional committee chairpersons and other high-ranking policymakers to achieve solutions.