Every year, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue outlines the top challenges facing the business community and lays out the U.S. Chamber’s policy priorities for the year.
This live blog will help put the speech in context. Along with bits of the speech, I'll drop in links to related stories as well as social media reactions in real time.
Watch the speech live here.
Join the conversation on social media with the #AmericanDreams hashtag.
We have a full house this morning.
Inspiring intro video:
9:35: Mark Wilson, President and CEO of Chime Solutions, introduces Tom Donohue.
Wilson: “My proudest accomplishment has been to create 4,000 jobs. That’s 4,000 families and individuals that depend on me and my team.”
“I believe is tied to my fervent belief that people matter.”
“Everyone should get a shot at success.”
[Wilson’s 850-employee company is a customer service call center located in vacant department store space in a Georgia mall. Read the Free Enterprise profile.]
The State of American Business
9:40: Tom Donohue takes the stage.
Optimism is consistently high.
Business owners tell us they have been encouraged by stronger economic growth. We have achieved a growth rate in the last year that many “experts” claimed was out of reach. And it was driven in no small part by deregulation and tax reform.
The Chamber projects continued growth of around 2.6% for 2019.
We expect unemployment to remain low, wages to keep expanding, and inflation in range of the Fed’s target of 2%.
But growth is not an end in itself. Our economy is, and always has been, about people.
So today I want to discuss something more enduring than a set of numbers from a moment in time—and that is the role of the American Dream—or, more accurately, the countless American dreams that together have propelled our nation forward for more than 240 years.
You might say that the original American dreamers were the founders of our government who conceived a more perfect union, who led the grand experiment of a new republic anchored in religious, personal, and economic freedom.
American dreamers took that freedom and ran with it.
They applied their ideas, talent, and toil to great American feats—the transcontinental railroad, the assembly line, the interstate highway system, the personal computer, the worldwide web, the Internet of Things.
These and other innovations have allowed generations of Americans to pursue their unique dreams.
[Free Enterprise: How a Gut Feeling Led this Dream Big Winner to Open Her Own Business]
The Chamber’s agenda for 2019 and beyond is built around this simple idea—to harness our new-found economic strength, do everything we can to keep it going, and put it to work on behalf of Americans who hope for a shot at their own unique American dream.
We must have a steady supply of talented and hard-working people to do the work of a modern economy so our nation can compete and lead.
And we need the right policies, systems, and opportunities in place to prepare those people so that they can compete and succeed.
It’s no secret that our nation is currently falling short on both of those imperatives.
We have people without jobs—who lack the skills or education to fill open positions.
And we have jobs without people—employers tell us positions are sitting vacant because they can’t find the workers they need, when and where they need them.
[Read on Above the Fold why by closing both the skills and people gaps opportunity will flourish, the economy will grow, and people will prosper.]
We’re working to strengthen the foundation of opportunity by focusing on early learning and K-12 education.
We’re promoting smart choices in post-secondary education or training so that students can get a return on their investment and earn credentials of value in the market.
And we believe that the future requires lifelong learning. So we must change the way we think about, accredit, and fund post-secondary education.
Businesses can help by regularly training and retraining their employees so that their skills remain sharp and relevant.
The Chamber’s Foundation is creating business-led solutions, like Talent Pipeline Management, and have launched academies in 26 states to help businesses source and train workers.
[The U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management initiative works with businesses of all sizes to create “real pathways to opportunity in today’s economy.”]
We must not overlook those who are on the sidelines.
Veterans and military spouses should have new opportunities to transition into the civilian workforce.
Older Americans should have incentives to work well past 65.
The formerly incarcerated should have a second chance at building a productive life—starting with a stable job.
And it is crucial that we work together to tackle big challenges, including addiction and the inability of many Americans to move where the jobs are.
Getting these people back into our economy will not only expand our talent pool—it will extend opportunity to those who perhaps have given up on their American dreams.
[The U.S. Chamber worked to pass bipartisan criminal justice legislation in 2018.]
The fact is, employers don’t have the workers they need at every skill level, and in key industries—such as health care, agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation.
Our nation must continue to attract and welcome industrious and innovative people from all over the world, and finally fix our broken immigration system.
This is a politically fraught issue, with passions running high on both sides that has vexed our nation for many years.
Compromise will be necessary —but it’s possible, because each side has something it wants, and each side has something to give.
So today we are calling on the president and Congress to come together and support a reasonable solution:
Protection for the Dreamers and long-term Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries … AND the resources necessary to secure the border.
[Free Enterprise: How This Immigrant Entrepreneur Turned Trash into Millions]
We are calling on our leaders to pass a significant infrastructure package this year.
You’ve heard me say for years that a modest increase to the motor vehicle fuel user fee—which hasn’t been adjusted in 25 years—can be a big part of the solution.
I’ve also said the Chamber is open to viable alternatives—but we haven’t heard too many other ideas.
So we’re going to put some money on the table.
The Chamber will be offering cash prizes totaling $25,000 to those who can come up with the best, most viable ideas for a long-term sustainable funding source for infrastructure.
We want to hear from everyone—students, academics, business leaders, the people out there doing the building—everyone.
We’ll consolidate and publish all of the good ideas we receive—and we’ll have a big debate starting February 5th at our annual Infrastructure Summit.
[Last year, the U.S. Chamber laid out a four-part plan to give the country a 21st century infrastructure system for a 21st century economy.]
The modern trading system is an American triumph.
Selling “made in America” goods and services to the 95% of the world’s consumers who live outside the U.S. is absolutely fundamental to our growth and prosperity as a nation.
In fact, 49 of every 50 U.S. companies that sells goods overseas are small businesses—many of them could not survive without trade, especially in America’s heartland.
Trade also supports some 35 million American jobs—a number that could dramatically grow, or shrink, based on our nation’s trade policies.
[Above the Fold: The High Price of Tariffs]
We must advance strong new trade deals, starting with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement.
The USMCA is a good deal that must be approved to maintain the relationship with our top two export markets.
Now that we’ve struck a deal with Canada and Mexico, the administration must make good on its repeated promise to remove the steel and aluminum tariffs that were imposed in the heat of negotiations.
This would be an encouraging sign for all of our partners, including those we’re pursuing new market-opening agreements with—Japan, the EU, and the UK.
And what about China?
The Chamber supports the administration’s negotiations to address China’s theft of intellectual property, forced technology transfer practices, and other unfair trade and industrial policies.
What we don’t support is a trade war, which is being waged through mounting tariffs.
Let me be very clear. Tariffs are taxes paid by American families and American businesses—not foreigners.
Instead of undermining our own economy, let’s work with our allies to apply pressure on China and use the tools provided by U.S. trade and international laws that we helped create.
Limiting trade is self-defeating; leveraging trade is essential to success in a global economy and creating jobs.
[Above the Fold: ‘Our prices have gone up significantly:’ Tariffs Threaten Virginia Businesses]
Governing in Washington
Given the rocky start to the year, it’s understandable there are questions about what can be accomplished under a sharply divided government.
The divisions aren’t just between the parties—they’re within the parties.
Governing by crisis is no way to do the nation’s business. Our leaders must responsibly fulfill their duties.
Today we’re announcing that, for the first time in 40 years, we are fundamentally changing the way we measure lawmakers’ contribution to our economy and we are revamping our congressional scorecard.
Starting with this Congress, we will not base our support solely on casting the right votes—though that remains essential.
We will give lawmakers credit for showing leadership on good legislation—even if it doesn’t pass or even come up for a vote.
And we’re going to take bipartisanship into account. Lawmakers should be rewarded for reaching across the aisle—not punished.
This new approach reflects our belief that many of Washington’s troubles—including dysfunction, division, and incivility—could be helped by rebuilding the political center and restoring responsible government.
Government is an important partner in creating the conditions for growth, but it’s business that makes dreams possible by spreading opportunity, creating jobs, and generating wealth.
When businesses thrive—communities thrive. Successful companies do a whole lot of good through philanthropy and corporate citizenship.
That’s why the Chamber is focused on defending the profoundly positive role of business in our economy and society—and fighting back against attacks, and especially on public companies.
I’m talking about a growing assault on companies who are being silenced, pressured, or intimidated into advancing narrow special interests—often at the expense of the companies, their shareholders, and their employees.
These attacks are coming from some activist investors, proxy advisory firms, mass and class action trial lawyers, as well as some political activists and politicians.
We are pursuing regulatory and legislative changes that make it easier for businesses to go and stay public and that allow companies to focus on long-term growth.
We’re working with the SEC and Congress to bring real transparency and oversight to proxy advisory firms and to reform the shareholder voting process.
We’re educating directors so they are better armed to deal with public policy battles that are waged in the board room.
The Chamber is focused on reforming the current system to reward value and quality while continuing to support innovation and access.
That means keeping America the pharmaceutical innovation lab of the world … and opposing price controls.
It means giving workers and families the tools to take greater charge of their health through innovative programs and products, like health savings accounts.
We also have to respond to calls for government-run, single-payer health care—because it doesn’t work! We’ll use all of our resources to combat it.
[Above the Fold: Association Health Plans are a Health Care Victory for Small Businesses]
New and innovative ways to produce more American energy has lowered costs and improved efficiency, greatly benefiting businesses and families alike.
But powerful forces want to reverse this progress.
The Chamber is intensifying its efforts to combat the “Keep It in the Ground Movement,” eliminate bureaucratic delays to permitting, and promote new energy infrastructure to keep our resources—and our economy moving.
[Read the Global Energy Institute’s report: Infrastructure Lost: Why America Cannot Afford to "Keep It In the Ground"]
America’s tort system drains hundreds of billions of dollars from our economy, and undermines justice.
The Chamber will keep up our 20-year fight for commonsense legal reforms at the federal and state levels, including fixing the broken mass and class action system, stopping asbestos litigation abuse, and pushing back hard against over-enforcement.
[Here is the Institute for Legal Reform’s list of the Top 10 Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2018]
Technology and intellectual property
The Chamber advocates for rational policy solutions to capitalize on the promise of technology. For example, the Chamber is leading a multi-industry push for a federal data privacy law that will protect consumer privacy and promote innovation.
And we continue to lead the worldwide effort to safeguard intellectual property, which is essential to driving growth, creating jobs, saving lives, and solving big challenges at home and abroad.
The national and international environment
First, authoritarian regimes are on the rise across the globe.
The U.S. and our allies spent the last 70 years working to expand democracy and freedom, which has played a large role in global growth and progress ever since.
Today, we face the task of rebuilding domestic consensus for supporting democracy abroad—and the Chamber is poised participate in that leadership.
We must also reaffirm and modernize multilateral and regional organizations and cooperative arrangements—such as the WTO, NATO, the EU, and others. Let’s not lose sight of the extraordinary prosperity and peace they’ve provided for three quarters of a century.
Second, and closely related, free speech is under assault at home and abroad.
When governments move from regulating conduct to regulating or even suppressing opinion, a dangerous line has been crossed.
There’s an answer to speech you don’t like—it’s more speech! Not less. The same is true in politics. We need more voices participating in the process, not fewer.
And we must guard against any effort to silence the voice of business—or any other voice—through threats, intimidation or excessive regulations.
[In 2014, Donohue spoke about how freedoms like free speech are fundamental to free enterprise and a free society.]
Anyone who thought I wasn’t going to mention the looming insolvency of our entitlement programs doesn’t know me very well!
If we fail to act, it will be a one-two punch to the American Dream: the most vulnerable will be left with a fraying safety net, and future generations will be left with mountains of debt that make today’s debt look like the proverbial mole hill.
[Above the Fold: Entitlements: A Slow Motion Crisis]
Finally, there is a lack of appreciation for the free enterprise system.
Failed ideas like socialism or government-managed economies are steadily creeping into the political mainstream.
Here’s all you need to know: When a centralized government tries to plan everything for everyone, it provides inferior service for all.
Even with its occasional flaws and excesses, no one has ever devised a better system than free enterprise. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to stick with the entrepreneurs, the innovators, and the dreamers.
Ladies and gentlemen, American business is the product of American dreamers—and it is the conduit for American dreams.
We’re advancing an agenda for growth now, and anticipating the challenges that threaten prosperity later.
We are a nation of dreamers. Even better, we are a nation where dreams can be achieved. Let’s keep it that way.
The State of American Business action continues tomorrow. At 11:00 AM ET U.S. Chamber Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley will host a live TweetChat. Send him your questions about the direction of the economy or what lies ahead for businesses in 2019 using #USChamberChat.