Chamber of Commerce leader pledges to fight health-care law, financial overhaul

By Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 12:04 PM

The leader of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday scolded the Obama administration for the "regulatory tsunami" its policies have created, which he called "the biggest single threat to job creation" in the country.

"We have never seen anything on this scale before. It defies all logic and common sense," Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue said in a speech to the group's board of directors. He vowed to fight many of the new rules outlined in the health-care reform law and the financial overhaul bill. "We cannot allow this nation to move from a government of the people to a government of the regulators."

Donohue also waded into the contentious debate over tax cuts, calling on lawmakers to "immediately renew" all of the Bush-era cuts that are due to expire at the end of the year, including those that go to the wealthiest Americans.

President Obama and leading Democrats have maintained that only the tax cuts benefitting the middle class should continue, while most Republicans argue that all the cuts should be extended given the precarious economy and high unemployment.

The Chamber has been a frequent thorn in the administration's side over the past two years, spending millions of dollars a week opposing some of the president's top legislative priorities and filling the campaign coffers of Republican candidates.

Its bet on the midterm elections seemed to pay off, and Donohue's speech Wednesday was part victory speech, part rallying cry. He appeared confident that the business community would receive a warmer welcome on Capitol Hill as Republicans take control of the House in January and the Democratic majority in the Senate weakens. "The elections are over, and our message was heard," Donohue said. "Along with others, we spoke about the dangers of a bigger and more intrusive government. ... The American people responded in an historic way."

Still, Donohue insisted in his speech and in remarks to reporters afterward that the Chamber intends to work with the administration and leaders on Capitol Hill to the extent possible, even as their visions often diverge.

"This is not personal with us, the whole question of how we get along," he said. "It's about representing our members and advancing ideas that we think are essential to expand our economy, compete in the world and create American jobs."

Such cooperation, while rare, wouldn't be unprecedented. The Chamber and the administration have collaborated before on major initiatives such as the massive stimulus package passed by Congress last year and the bailout of some of the nation's largest banks, which Donohue vigorously defended Wednesday.

He also noted that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and incoming GOP House speaker John Boehner were slated to meet with the Chamber's board later in the day, signalling that both parties have incentive to at least maintain a dialogue with the organization.

Donohue cited areas in which he said the Chamber, the administration and lawmakers off all stripes could seek consensus. He argued for expanded trade agreements, fundamental tax reform that would broaden the country's tax base, investments in new infrastructure projects and meaningful efforts to reduce the deficit, including changes to costly entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

Donohue also said that despite the millions of dollars and much effort the Chamber put into getting many Republicans elected this fall, the lobbying group has no plans to target Obama himself come 2012.

"It's not in our interest to get into presidential politics," Donohue told reporters. "And it is not our intention to participate in any activity to weaken the president for his reelection."

Despite his slightly more conciliatory tone overall and the call to work together on major issues, Donohue also made clear Tuesday that the Chamber would continue to expand its lobbying efforts and to oppose the administration on many fronts.

"The Chamber will mount a vigorous defense and an aggressive offense in support of the right to lobby, communicate with voters, talk to employees, and to do so without government harassment or undue restrictions," he said. "There are those in this town who probably wish that the Chamber would go away, or at least quiet down. But we're not going anywhere."

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