After Tom Donohue laid out the U.S. Chamber’s 2018 agenda in the State of American Business Address, the President and CEO joined Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley for questions from the Washington, D.C. press corps.
Hot topics included NAFTA, infrastructure, and immigration.
In his speech, Donohue said, “The American economy has taken several big steps forward with regulatory relief and tax reform, and the administration deserves lots of credit. But a wrong move on NAFTA would send us five steps back.”
But with that warning, Donohue expressed the business community’s continued hope that the U.S., Canada, and Mexico can reach a modernized agreement.
To make sure that happens the U.S. Chamber has been holding numerous events in Washington and across the country to “keep the focus” on NAFTA. And it will "keep it up until it's all resolved and we have a new agreement," said Donohue.
Donohue praised Congress’ efforts in advocating for NAFTA, noting that members of Congress "have been working very closely with the White House and the trade rep."
And should it get to a point where the U.S. pulls out of a trade deal that supports 14 million jobs, Donohue said, “you might get the idea that Democrats and Republicans alike would be very consumed by that move."
[Learn more: Which States Would Be Hit Hardest by Withdrawing from NAFTA?]
On infrastructure, Donohue said in his speech, “We have the political will, the bipartisan support — and we certainly have the need. Now it’s time for action.”
The important question is how to pay for it.
"I have been a longtime supporter of a gas tax increase," said Donohue in the press conference, and noted it hasn't been raised in over two decades. As a result, "we have reduced the money coming in" for highways, bridges, and other infrastructure.
But he said further ideas about funding will come at America’s Infrastructure Summit on Jan. 18.
As for immigration, Donohue declared in his speech, “We can’t strengthen and sustain economic growth if we don’t expand and support our workforce.”
He echoed this at the press conference, "We have a serious shortage of workers."
Whether it’s keeping “the most competent, technical, scientific, medical, aerospace, minds in the world” trained at U.S. universities working here, having enough seasonal workers, or having enough workers to care for an aging population, our immigration system must meet the needs of our economy.
As for legislation, Bradley added that recent talks between the White House and Congressional leaders were helpful in laying out steps for progress.
"The most immediate phase is the over one million currently legal workers in the United States who are at threat of losing the ability to remain in the legal workforce" like Dreamers and people with Temporary Protected Status, he said. “If we can get those things accomplished in the next several weeks, then that's really going to lay down groundwork for larger, bigger reforms.”
These three issues — trade, infrastructure, and immigration — mean 2018 is off to a busy start.