Sean Hackbarth Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


January 03, 2018


From a mesmerizing eclipse to major storms that brought Americans together, 2017 was as wild as Bitcoin’s daily price swings.

Our nation’s capital wasn’t removed from the non-stop action.

After years of Washington looking at the business community as a problem, a new administration and Congress saw what strong businesses meant for jobs, innovation, and economic growth and took action to support America’s free enterprise system.

This time last year, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue delivered his annual State of American Business Address, saying:

[B]usiness is optimistic because we see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact major reforms that could transform the American economy from a low-growth to a high-growth economy.

As a new government comes to town, the Chamber’s overriding focus will be on those policies and reforms that can return robust growth to the American economy. We will judge every proposal on that basis, and we urge all policymakers to do the same. Ask a simple question: Will it speed growth or will it impede growth?

Washington grabbed those opportunities, and we’ll see them payoff in the years ahead. Last year was filled with pro-growth victories that helped businesses and the American people. Let’s take one last look at 2017 through the prism of Donohue’s speech.

Tax reform

A real chance at major tax reform only comes around once in a generation, if you’re lucky. We just might get lucky this year and next.

Our current tax code is suffocating American businesses and frustrating American families.

We need to lower the business tax rate, which is now the highest in the industrialized world when you add in state taxes. We need to significantly lower individual tax rates as well. Millions of small businesses file as pass through entities, and their marginal rates can exceed 50 percent in some states.

We also need to institute an internationally competitive system of taxation. Currently, when a company based in America earns money overseas, that money gets taxed twice. First in the country where it’s earned, and then again by the U.S. government. The U.S. is one of the only major economies that imposes that second tax.

Pro-growth tax reform should also end the current bias against capital investment. All capital investments should either be expensed or recovered using a significantly improved capital cost recovery system.

At the top of the list has to be the first major tax reform since 1986. It was a massive win for businesses, workers, and the economy.

Tax rates were cut for all types of businesses, from corporations to small businesses. The U.S. tax system now makes American companies more globally competitive and helps them invest more in their businesses and workers.

We saw tax reform’s effects almost immediately. Soon after the bill passed Congress, companies across the country announced they’d dole out bonuses to their workers as well as invest in their businesses and communities.

The U.S. Chamber made the case for tax reform and led the charge in getting the bill through Congress and onto President Trump’s desk.

Reducing regulations

To start, we need regulatory relief and regulatory reform. There is no justification for the regulatory overkill we have seen over the last eight years.

On both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, reducing regulatory burdens was a priority.

Congress used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to reverse 14 harmful regulations the Obama administration crafted last year. One of them was an anti-arbitration rule pushed by an Obama hold-over at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In addition, the House of Representatives passed the Regulatory Accountability Act to make federal rules smarter and more effective, and bipartisan work took place this year to get it through the Senate.

The Executive Branch kept up with Congress’ pace. U.S. Chamber regulations expert Joe Johnson wrote, “for the first time the cumulative burden of regulation has been reduced.”

For instance, EPA is working to repeal and potentially replacing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules.

Independent agencies also got in on the act. The FCC rolled back regulations that treated the internet like the 20th Century phone system.

[Monitor federal regulatory reform with the U.S. Chamber's Regulatory Reform Tracker.]

Boosting American energy

Everyone is talking about how they want more things that are ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ How about American energy? We’ve got to prudently develop the abundant natural resources our country has been blessed with—and put them to work for our economy, our workers, our consumers, and governments at all levels.

Strong American energy production in 2017 continued shaking up global energy markets. Because of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the U.S. is expected to produce record amounts of oil in 2018 and remains the world’s top natural gas producer.

Besides the benefits of abundant domestic energy for consumers and industry, this energy boom is supporting jobs on the production side as well as on the export side, where the U.S. has doubled petroleum exports since 2010 and is now a net natural gas exporter.

Here are some important policy wins:

  • After decades of debate, Congress opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to development.
  • The Bureau of Land Management repealed duplicative fracking rules on federal lands and delayed a methane venting and flaring rule.
  • President Trump nominated and the Senate confirmed new members to FERC to get backlogged energy infrastructure projects approved.

[Check out the Global Energy Institute’s Energy Tracker to keep up with federal energy policy actions.]

Defending trade

We’ll also encourage the administration to remember that our trade with Canada and Mexico supports 14 million American jobs — and much of that trade depends on NAFTA. But it’s a fact that NAFTA is 23 years old, so we welcome the discussion on how it can be modernized and strengthened.

Policymakers and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) stakeholders across the board embraced the U.S. Chamber’s early mantra of “do no harm” as modernization talks proceeded.

Throughout 2017, business groups, farmers, ranchers, small business owners told their stories to the public and to leaders in Washington about why NAFTA and trade are important to their livelihoods.

As negotiations continue, the U.S. Chamber will continue to forcefully explain that NAFTA means jobs for Americans and growth for the economy.

[Learn why Trade Works for US.]

Emphasizing the importance of growth

Numbers can be deceiving. If we are able to move our economy from two percent growth to three percent growth, that’s not a one percent increase in our performance—it’s a 50 percent increase. Yet ultimately, growth is not about numbers. Growth is about people. Increasing our growth rate 50 percent or more would have an extraordinarily positive impact on jobs, incomes, and opportunities—not just for the few, but for the many.

Speaking of growth, economic growth picked up in 2017. For the first time since 2014 GDP grew by at least 3% for two straight quarters.

A White House and Congress that see business as a solution to our country’s problems, along with policy successes, drove economic confidence in businesses of all sizes according to U.S. Chamber Small Business and Middle Market Indexes.

With looming issues like entitlements on the horizon, faster economic growth and the growing wages that come from it will be needed to help Americans live more prosperous lives along with coping with looming fiscal problems.

What’s on tap for 2018?

State of American Business 2018

As you can see, 2017 was very productive. But what’s in store for the U.S. Chamber in 2018?

If last year is any indication, we'll be surprised. However, we’ll get an idea, next week.

On January 10, Tom Donohue will be laying out the U.S. Chamber’s priorities for 2018 at the State of American Business Address. From infrastructure to trade to technology to immigration to shrinking the skills gap as well as this fall’s elections, Donohue will again make the case for business advocating for pro-growth policies that strengthen American workers, families, and our country.

About the authors

Sean Hackbarth

Sean Hackbarth

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.

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