Chamber of Commerce Urges Large Stimulus Package

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2009; 1:22 PM

Forecasting unemployment rates as high as 9 percent this year, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive Thomas J. Donohue today called on state and federal governments to fully fund programs for the jobless and pass a "significant" economic stimulus package.

While the U.S. Chamber, which represents 3 million businesses and engages one of the best-funded lobbying forces on Capitol Hill, typically advocates for less government spending and regulation, the extraordinary economic stress in the United States -- which he likened to a heart attack -- demands extraordinary measures, he said.

"What we are talking about is a defibrillator," Donohue said. "We are trying to shock the economy."

At a meeting to announce its annual "State of American Business" report, Chamber officials said the reported magnitude and composition of president-elect Obama's stimulus package are roughly in line with what they think appropriate. They said they like the fact that about 40 percent of the stimulus package is aimed at reducing the tax burden.

"Based on the reports we have seen and the conversations we have had, the chamber is very encouraged by the direction the President-elect is taking with his recovery package," he said. "This includes not only tax cuts for workers and businesses, but also his strong emphasis on infrastructure."

But Donohue warned against the kind of massive and permanent government action that arose during the Great Depression.

"We don't need and can't afford another New Deal," Donohue said. "The 2008 election was all about change. It's not change if you go backward to the policies and approaches of the 1930s . . . We've got to be very, very careful that we don't make a larger government."

The chamber also outlined its annual lobbying goals for the year in a letter it has sent to Congress.

In it, the Chamber calls for government investment in transportation, broadband Internet, drinking-water and wastewater programs and energy; a tax credit that would encourage the purchase of vacant homes similar to one offered in response to the 1975 housing crisis; help to bolster credit markets for new commercial mortgages; an effort to encourage overseas tourists to come to the United States; and funding to jumpstart state-based broadband initiatives.

Even as the Chamber laid out their expansive list of recommendations and wants, Donohue said one of the biggest challenges for the president-elect will be the high expectations he faces.

"Everyone thinks he's going to wave his magic wand and everything gets better," he said.

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