Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: email@example.com
In his State of American Business speech Thursday morning, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue outlined the organization's vision and focuses for the coming year, zeroing in on a reduction in the regulatory framework for businesses and pursuing policies that will address the nation's unemployment rate.
The Chamber expects the U.S. economy to grow by 2.5 percent for the first half of 2012 and hopes it will increase to 3 percent by the end of the year, Donohue said, adding that it "has to grow faster than it is now" to put the 23 million either out of work or underemployed back to work. He cited the uncertainty of new regulations under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the additional requirements of the Affordable Care Act as factors that had led to uncertainty among American businesses. Donohue pointed to a Chamber survey that found 80 percent of U.S. small businesses are concerned about higher taxes and increased regulations.
The Chamber will lobby President Barack Obama and Congress to take action in the coming year on energy and infrastructure issues, innovation and a strategy for dealing with the increasingly costly entitlement programs. Donohue said, the organization's 100th anniversary. "2012 must not be a wasted year simply because it is an election year," he said.
Donohue laid out the five focuses of the Chamber's agenda for the new year:
Several of the Chamber's goals are particularly pertinent to state and local governments. Donohue argued that unconventional oil and natural gas development could create 300,000 jobs in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia by 2015. He advocated for Congress to reauthorize the surface transportation funding bill before it expires on March 31; otherwise, he said, the Highway Trust Fund would be cut by a minimum of 35 percent later this year, adding that state and local governments, which provide 50 percent of funding for those projects, have been hampered by the uncertainty.
Reform to K-12 education, Medicaid and immigration would have tangible effects for states and localities. In a press conference after the speech, Donohue said that state governments, which have balanced budget requirements and are facing their own challenges with public pensions and Medicaid, should provide a model for the federal government as it seeks to cut spending and reduce its deficit. He urged governors and state legislators to petition their representatives in Congress to pass policies that will create jobs back in their home states.
The Chamber will also undertake a voter education initiative for the 2012 election, Donohue said. Although the organization doesn't endorse candidates for president, Donohue said the Chamber would be involved in congressional races, as well as elections for state supreme court justices and state attorneys general.
Despite much of the skepticism surrounding the economy and its current slow recovery, Donohue expressed optimism at the conclusion of his remarks.
"We must not lose the spirit of enterprise and risk-taking that has served the country and our economy so well," he said. "We are reaffirming our commitment to free enterprise, the greatest economic system ever devised and the driver of America's greatness."