US Chamber of Commerce lays out 2012 agenda

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Annual State of Business Address, President Tom Donohue outlined an agenda for 2012 and indicated that the Chamber would push for Congress to grapple with some of the serious issues facing the economy this year, rather than trying to push off real action until after the election in November.

“As we begin 2012,” Donohue said, “we can say that the state of American business is improving — but it is doing so weakly, slowly and insufficiently to put our nation back to work.”

With that in mind, the Chamber’s 2012 agenda focuses on five categories: Energy and infrastructure; expanding trade, investment and tourism; regulatory reform; innovation; and entitlement reform.

Energy, Donohue said, is “the next big thing.”

“With the right policies, the oil and natural gas industry could create more than 1 million jobs by 2018,” as well as earn money for the government, and decrease “dependence on overseas imports.”

Donohue specifically singled out the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would stretch from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

“This project has passed every environmental test. There is no legitimate reason — none at all — to subject it to further delay,” Donohue said.

He also called for investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

Donohue called for a “bold trade agenda,” which he said should include a pact with the European Union, as well as include free trade deals with Brazil, Egypt and India, among others.

Additionally, he said, the U.S. “should make a major effort to attract global investors. … We need to negotiate more bilateral investment treaties to ensure that American investors are treated fairly overseas.”

He also called for easing travel restrictions to encourage tourism.

The mounting number of regulations, Donohue said, “adds up to a big drag on our economy.” Though there is some necessary regulation — regulation he said the Chamber would support if implemented — the fact that there are “more regulations in the pipeline today than currently exist,” Donohue said, was evidence of “a regulatory system run amok” that “is needlessly driving American jobs out of the country or out of existence.”

To revitalize American innovation, Donohue called for patent reform, a “crackdown on foreign websites whose only purpose is to trick consumers, steal American jobs and pollute the vibrant internet marketplace,” as well as immigration reform “to allow the world’s best minds and most creative entrepreneurs to stay in our country after we educate them in our top universities.” He also called for reform in the education system.

Corporate tax law, Donohue said, is also a huge drag on business because our current corporate tax rate — “one of the highest … in the world” — prevents us from being competitive.

Lastly, Donohue said, “All of us need to face the fundamental reality that the only way to continue these [entitlement] programs is to make constructive changes and make them now.”

The Chamber will be actively involved in pressing these policies on a Congress and president that, for the next 11 months, will be inclined at times to let “politicking … take precedence over policy making,” in the words of Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for Government Affairs.

“2012 must not be a wasted year simply because it is an election year. There’s no justifiable reason why it should be,” Donohue said, objecting to the fact that the Senate has not taken up the jobs bills passed by the House, and the fact that a spokesman for President Obama said that the president had only a single legislative item on his agenda for the year —extending the Social Security payroll tax holiday.

“Real leaders don’t ignore realities. They don’t sweep problems under the rug. They don’t point fingers. They don’t divide us. They seek to unite us,” Donohue said. “Real leaders wouldn’t wait another day without trying to solve the serious economic and financial challenges facing our country. They wouldn’t tell us that the solutions will have to wait until after the election.”

The Chamber will play a role in those elections, launching “the most aggressive grassroots mobilization and voter education program in our history.”

The Chamber focuses its energy on “elections for the Senate, the House, the state supreme court, the state attorney general,” and Donohue said that they “will have a vigorous program of voter education in all of those areas.”

“We’re a lot stronger than we’ve been before in terms of our grassroots system and … the extraordinary number of people that we have connected into the Chamber. And we will spend more money than we spent before on the vigorous education efforts, and obviously, it’s going be an interesting time,” Donohue said. When asked specifically, he said they would be “significantly involved” in the Massachusetts Senate Race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, and would also play a role in other races.

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