Wall Street Journal
By: Michael R. Crittenden
January 8, 2014
Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, took a swipe at the White House push to address income inequality, saying Wednesday that the problem is a lack of opportunities available to many Americans rather than a system weighted to benefit a few top earners.
Presenting the influential business lobby's "State of American Business," Mr. Donohue said he expects the U.S. economy to grow at a faster clip in 2014 than last year, helped by a rebound in housing and increases in business investment and hiring. Pledging to push U.S. lawmakers to go further in addressing immigration, trade and infrastructure legislation, he challenged the government not to get in the way of economic recovery.
"Our economy is also benefiting from continued strength in domestic energy production and improvements in trade. Note to the president and Congress: Let business do more of both and we'll generate more jobs and income than any government program can deliver," Mr. Donohue said at the Chamber's headquarters near the White House.
He also used the opportunity to wade into the growing debate over how to reshape the domestic economy. President Barack Obama has vowed to focus his final three years in office on the issue of income inequality, and is expected to make raising the minimum wage and the government's role in boosting economic opportunity central themes in his upcoming State of the Union address.
Mr. Donohue acknowledged that inequality issues need to be addressed, but said it was not about income levels and instead about opportunities for workers. He also blamed the White House for relying on economic prescriptions that he said have hurt the recovery.
"We've been sitting on our heels because the view across the street is that more government programs are going to create more jobs. Our view is that more freedom for the job creators is going to create more jobs," Mr. Donohue said.
With elections coming up in November, he said the Chamber plans to play an active role in a number of races around the country, including some primaries. While saying they were not specifically trying to head off candidates associated with the tea party movement, Mr. Donohue said he was concerned about the type of hardline candidates who have opposed raising the debt ceiling and encouraged the government shutdown in October.
The chamber has no reason to back candidates on either side of the aisle who won't vote in favor of the group's priorities, he said.
"When they get to Washington they're not going to do what we believe you need to do, so why would we help them get here?" he said, adding that the Chamber has roughly half-a-dozen races where it is focused on open seats or primaries "where people are trying to challenge particularly long-serving and smart-voting people."
Chamber officials said they would push for legislative and regulatory tweaks to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law, to alter provisions they see as unworkable.
David Hirschmann, who heads the Chamber's Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, said enough time has passed since the adoption of Dodd-Frank in 2010 that lawmakers and the Obama administration may be more willing to make "small, discrete" changes that don't threaten to undo the law's major components. The Obama administration has previously resisted making tweaks to the law until its major provisions are completed.
"Where there's sensible things, that have bipartisan support, where there's philosophical agreement, it's time to act," Mr. Hirschmann said.
One area of focus, he said, is ensuring that corporate users of derivatives known as swaps receive a full exemption from new margin requirements. The legislation has gained traction through the Republican-dominated House, but failed to advance in the Senate.