Chamber of Commerce: Don’t waste 2012

at 02:46 PM ET, 01/12/2012

In a speech Thursday morning, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and chief executive Tom Donohue warned President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate against letting election-year politics hold back the legislative agenda. In his in his annual address on the state of business, Donohue said that “2012 must not be a wasted year simply because it is an election year.”
Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, speaks at the organization's headquarters in Washington. (Bloomberg)

The Chamber president singled out the Senate for failing to act on any of the economic growth bills that the Republican-led House has passed and criticized an administration official for saying the payroll tax extension was the single item that was on Obama’s “must-pass” legislative agenda. In particular, he pressed Obama to greenlight the Keystone XL pipeline that has alarmed environmental advocates and the Democratic base. “There is no legitimate reason — none at all — to subject it to further delay,” he proclaimed.

That said, there also are a host of issues on which the Chamber and the current Republican Party diverge as well: on tax increases, an immigration overhaul and regulatory reform, for instance. Through Donohue didn’t point fingers at Republicans during his speech, he said shortly afterward that electoral politics were also holding back the GOP from always making the best policy choices.

I asked Donohue about the Republicans’ hard-line stance against any tax increases — one of the biggest stumbling blocks in last year’s legislative debates — as compared with the Chamber’s own support for a gas tax hike to pay for new infrastructure spending. “It’s because they’re running for office, and they’re eventually going to have to do it, or the infrastructure program will fail,” he told me. But in contrast with his remarks during his earlier speech, Donohue expressed sympathy and optimism about the Republicans’ political stance. “We’ll just keep talking about it until they get educated,” Donohue said. “I think they’ve been under great stress in a difficult economy.”

But the Chamber also made it clear that it didn’t expect that Republicans would drop their political posturing on other key items on the Chamber’s agenda, even when their views diverged. In contrast to most congressional Republicans — and nearly every GOP presidential candidate — the Chamber wants to “fundamentally reform” rather than repeal the entirety of Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act, arguing there are important new regulations that should be preserved in both. The Chamber explained that the contrast didn’t come as a shock. “Am I surprised that a bunch of Republican presidential candidates are out on the stump saying what they’re saying? No, I’m not surprised at all,” the Chamber’s chief lobbyist, Bruce Josten told reporters.

I asked Josten whether he thought Republicans should, in fact, be pushing for reforming Dodd-Frank and Obama’s health law, rather than simply junking them entirely — in other words, adopting Chamber’s own position on the issue. Josten told me and the other reporters that the media simply wouldn’t have the patience to listen to more nuanced policy views from GOP legislators.

“I think when you’re dealing in sound bites, you’re dealing in sound bites. I don’t think any of you would relish the idea of covering somebody, giving hour-and-a-half-, two-hour speeches fundamentally laying out every policy prescription in the world. And even worse, none of you would cover it because none of your editors would let you,” he explained. “I’m just saying there’s reality. Next question!”

 
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