The nation’s largest business lobbying organization has outlined its top priorities and predictions for the coming year, including plans to tackle some of the most pressing policy issues facing small business owners.
United States Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue this week delivered the group’s annual State of American Business speech at its headquarters in Washington, during which he expressed plenty of optimism about an election year that many worry will consist of even more political posturing and less actual legislative action.
“The pundits will tell you that it’s going to be very, very hard to accomplish much of anything this year,” Donohue said. “We hope to turn that assumption on its ear by turning the upcoming elections into a motivator for change.”
“It’s based on a simple theory,” he added. “If you can’t make them see the light, then as least make them feel some heat.”
Several of the issues on which the chamber intends to turn up the heat could have a significant impact on entrepreneurs and small business owners. Here’s a quick rundown.
Obamacare fight not yet over
It may be the law of that land, but that does not mean the chamber is done pushing back against parts of the Affordable Care Act. The group plans to continue pursuing certain changes to the legislation, including repealing various taxes and delaying or throwing out rules that require employers to provide insurance to their workers.
“I’m not so sure its a matter of taking scissors and cutting out whole segments of the Obamacare process,” Donohue told reporters following his speech. He later elaborated, saying that “ what we have to do is delay whatever we have to delay for shorts periods of time while we look these things over, go through all the stuff everybody is talking about, keep what works, fix what we can still, and get rid of the things that might not fit.”
It’s a similar approach (improve, rather than repeal) to the one adopted by several small business groups, which have continued to fight to repeal a new tax on insurers, scrap those mandatory insurance rules for employers and tweak other parts of the law.
All in on immigration reform
The chamber pushed hard for a deal last year, but the House never took up the sweeping immigration overhaul crafted and eventually approved by the Senate. Donohue hopes this will be the year, though.
He said his team “will pull out all the stops, through grassroots lobbying, communications, politics, and partnerships with our friends in the unions, and faith-based organizations and law enforcement groups and others to get this job done.”
Donohue added that he is “encouraged” by recent progress in the House, where Speaker John Boehner is expected to release a discussion draft of immigration reform principles in the coming months.
Small firms have been split on the immigration front, with some eager for the country to increase the number of visas for foreign workers, while others are concerned about proposed employment verification responsibilities.
Clarity on financial regulations
Donahue argued that some of the regulations created under the financial reform law known as Dodd-Frank have put a strain on some small and mid-sized banks. Meanwhile, because many of the rules are still pending and evolving, some banks have been wary to pour capital into commerical loans until the regulatory picture becomes more clear.
He said his group will push for regulators to provide clarity on the rules for lenders and take a second look at some of the lending restrictions that may be stifling small businesses.
“Access to capital for many small businesses is the primary concern,” Regalia added. “The Dodd-Frank rules and the role of the Fed in the allocation of credit throughout the system is a brand new ballgame, and I think we would likely to see more clarification on where that is going.”
No hope for broad tax reform?
Despite cooperation between the two parties’ top tax writers last year, those hoping for an upheaval of the nation’s longstanding tax system may have to wait quite a while longer. Donhoue made it clear during the event that he does not believe lawmakers will take up the issue this year.
“The answer is no,” Donohue said. “I don’t think you’ll get comprehensive tax reform in this election year.”
Martin Regalia, the chamber’s top economist, added that the group’s board has agreed on tax principles that require comprehensive reforms, and that the group would not advocate a plan that only overhauled the corporate tax system or only overhauled the individual tax system.
In part, that it because the group is concerned that corporate-only reform, which appears slightly more amenable to both parties, would leave out small business owners, many of whom pay business taxes as pass-through entities at the individual rate.