by Sean Hackbarth
2015 is “no time to be complacent” about the economy, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue warned in the 2015 State of American Business Address:
We’ve had a few good quarters of economic growth. But we’re not out of the woods. There are many risks and challenges facing our economy that have the potential to send us right back to the doldrums—or worse.
For instance, we still have a troubled labor market:
We can’t forget that 17.7 million Americans are still unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work. Participation in the workforce stands at 62.7%, the lowest since 1978, reflecting a significant level of discouragement.
“Current policies have eroded our economy’s long-term potential rate of growth,” said Donohue:
It would be a serious mistake to think that higher taxes, a bigger debt, and more regulations can deliver more growth, jobs, and prosperity. They will deliver less.
However, national leaders have an opportunity to advance a growth agenda. A new year brings a new Congress, Donohue said, that “has something to prove to the voters who elected them.” He added, “They need to legislate. The president needs to engage. Together, they need to govern.”
The U.S. Chamber’s Jobs, Growth, and Opportunity Agenda is a pro-growth blueprint. Here are 13 issues from Donohue’s speech that Washington can address to encourage stronger and deeper economic growth:
The administration is negotiating two historic trade agreements—the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The Chamber has supported these initiatives from the very beginning.
The president has said that he is committed to finishing the job on both pacts, but he’s going to need Trade Promotion Authority from the Congress to do it. He must really fight for it, especially before members of his own party. Enacting TPA so that we can finish these agreements is one of our top legislative priorities for this year.
Even with the recent decline in energy prices, abundant domestic energy still stands out as an extraordinary opportunity to generate millions of jobs, billions in revenues for government, and trillions in new investment while securing affordable energy for American consumers.
Congress and the administration should take the needed steps to unleash this energy revolution in an environmentally responsible way—and we should reform export rules so that we can sell this energy when appropriate around the world.
3. The Internet.
We recognize that the issue of net neutrality divides the tech community, but there can be no neutrality as far as the Chamber is concerned. We oppose efforts to regulate the Internet as if it were a 20th century public utility.
The Internet is one of the greatest drivers of prosperity and innovation in our economy. We need to develop better and smarter frameworks for data security and sharing—but the system must remain open, flexible, and innovative—and excessive government regulation of the Internet would just kill that goose.
We’re asking Congress to pass a long-term highway and mass transit bill with full funding—along with appropriate reforms. We must fully fund our aviation and water systems as well.
5. Immigration Reform.
Let’s start with immigration reform. I can assure you that we will continue to make this a top priority until it is done.
We are renewing our call for commonsense measures that not only better secure our borders but also provide the American economy with the workers it needs at all skill levels, improve the employment verification system, and deal with undocumented immigrants.
6. Regulatory Reform.
Business recognizes the need for smart regulations. But with a $2 trillion price tag in compliance costs imposed by a virtual fourth branch of government, it’s time to bring the system into the 21st century.
The Chamber will launch an all-out effort to pass three regulatory reform bills that already enjoy significant bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. The bills would modernize the process by which new rules are considered and promulgated, bring transparency and accountability to the now abusive process known as “sue and settle,” and streamline the permitting process once regulations are in place.
While we strongly support technological solutions to address greenhouse gas emissions, we do not believe that regulation of these emissions through the Clean Air Act is appropriate or workable.
8. Health Care.
We support congressional efforts to restore the 40-hour workweek to define who must be covered under the employer health care mandate. We’ll work to repeal taxes such as the medical device tax, the Cadillac tax, and the health insurance tax.
9. Financial Regulation.
We need a modern regulatory system that both drives financial stability and encourages capital formation.
The Chamber has supported positive steps to strengthen corporate governance. However, we will continue to vigorously oppose using the proxy to advance special interest agendas. We will also continue to push for reform of secretive proxy advisory firms.
The Chamber will also seek further targeted fixes to Dodd-Frank. For example, the Financial Stability Oversight Council is considering overdue and necessary changes to its systemically important designation process.
In addition, both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research ought to be placed under the appropriations process.
10. Tax Reform.
The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. We adhere to a system of “world-wide” taxation discarded by most other major countries. As a result, American businesses pay taxes twice, first to the foreign country in which they do business and then to Uncle Sam after they bring their profits home.
And since 28 million businesses pay their taxes as individuals, we also need reform at the same time on the individual side of the code. We need to end the bias against investment and spur small business startups, which have been lagging for a protracted period of time yet are absolutely critical to new job growth.
Republican leaders and the president all say that tax reform will be a priority in 2015. The Chamber plans to be at the table—on the theory that if you are not at the table, then you are on the menu. We will encourage genuine efforts to create a simpler, fairer, pro-growth tax system. We will not support an approach that uses tax reform as an excuse to engineer another big tax increase on the American business community.
11. Debt, Deficits, and Entitlement Reform.
More than anything else, the nation’s massive debt is being driven by entitlement costs. By 2024, federal spending will be $5.8 trillion, and more than 76% of that will go to mandatory programs plus interest on the national debt. That leaves less than 24% for national defense, important domestic programs, and everything else.
America’s leaders need to start telling the American people the truth. The entitlement crisis is an entirely predictable crisis. It demands action and leadership without further delay.
12. Legal Reform.
America still has the costliest legal system in the world.
Even more disturbing, America’s enforcement system has turned into a shakedown operation. Enforcement officials find a company that may or may not have done something wrong, threaten its managers with commercial ruin, and then force them to pay an enormous fine to drop—or not file—the charges.
Our agenda includes curbing these excesses, plus reforming legal systems in key states and jurisdictions, preserving the availability of arbitration, passing the FACT Act to help prevent fraudulent asbestos claims, and challenging foreign governments that are foolishly considering the adoption of American-style class action lawsuits.
We must ramp up efforts to reform public schools—to toughen the standards and measure them against prior years so that we know when students are falling behind. We also need to remove bad teachers and pay good teachers more, create more innovative charter schools, and ensure that parental choice is an option not just in wealthy communities but in all communities.
Donohue said Washington can and must work for the people it serves:
A governing center suggests you can be a committed conservative, a passionate progressive, or even one of a dwindling number of moderates, and still find a way to work together. Sometimes you can find common ground. But more often than not you acknowledge your differences and just make a deal.
That’s how governing is supposed to work in a democracy.
Common ground can be found. It’s policies that create more jobs, higher wages, and a more robust economy. Let’s get to work.