President Obama should green-light the Keystone pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast without delay, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Thursday.
"There is no legitimate reason, none at all, to subject it to further delay," Donohue said in his annual address on the state of business and the economy.
Republicans and industry groups have pummeled Obama in recent months over the proposed pipeline, which would carry Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast. They say the pipeline would create thousands of jobs and reduce U.S. dependency on oil from unstable countries overseas, but green groups warn it could be an environmental disaster.
Obama had sought to delay a final decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 election, but the payroll tax package provision requires a final verdict by Feb. 21.
At the White House Thursday, Press secretary Jay Carney called the deadline for approval of Keystone "artificial."
"Not only has no route been identified by the company, but the environmental assessment would take six to nine months," Carney said.
"To try and circumvent that process is counterproductive."
Asked what would happen with Keystone going forward, Carney said, "The process for Keystone, as I've said, is conducted at the State Department, and the State Department has been clear on the time necessary."
White House and administration officials say they could be forced to reject the pipeline under the 60-day timeline. Anticipating a rejection, Senate Republicans are already preparing legislation that would put the final decision on the pipeline in the hands of Congress, not the president.
Green groups detest Keystone due to greenhouse gas emissions and forest destruction from Alberta’s oil sands projects that the pipeline would support. They also fear spills that could pollute groundwater along the pipeline route.
"Real leaders understand that Americans can have big differences in philosophy but still find common ground," Donohue said. "They wouldn't tell us that solutions have to wait until after the election."
Donohue cited statistics from House Republicans that their chamber has passed 30 bills could create jobs. He chastised the Obama administration for saying the payroll tax cut extension is their only goal this year.
"Meanwhile, an administration spokesman recently said that there is just one item on the president's 'must pass' legislative program for the year — a further extension of the Social Security payroll tax holiday. With all the challenges facing our economy and our country, it's inconceivable that the president would agree with that — and I trust that he doesn't," Donohue said.
Donohue said the U.S. economy is improving but must grow faster.
"As we begin 2012, the state of business is improving, but it is doing so weakly, slowly and insufficiently to put enough of our nation back to work," Donohue said.
He spoke as weekly unemployment claims jumped to 399,000 after falling for weeks.
Donohue said the Chamber believed the economy will slow down in the early months of 2012, expecting growth to average about 2.5 percent for the first six months and then climb to about 3 percent by the end of the year.
He gave a wide-ranging speech that urged Congress and the White House to take action to create jobs by investing in energy and infrastructure as well as moving forward on a trade agenda.
The Chamber executive said regulations stemming from the new healthcare and Wall Street reform laws as well as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are acting as a drag on the economy.
"The regulatory avalanche confronting our job-creators is unprecedented," Donohue said. “This ends up as a drag on the economy, and I didn't mention many of the other agencies."
Donohue said other actions can be taken to improve the economy.
Along with pushing for completion of a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement this year, Donohue said Congress should grant permanent normal trade relations with Russia and renew the expired Trade Promotion Authority.
He said lawmakers must face reality regarding the federal deficit and pushed for “constructive changes” to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in order to pare government spending.
Donohue also pushed for passage of legislation that would have search engine and Internet providers block websites that infringe on copyrights. The Chamber’s lobbying for the bill, called the Stop Online Piracy Act, has angered several in Silicon Valley.
At the press conference after the speech, Donohue acknowledged the concerns Internet companies have with the bill — they believe it will stifle innovation and lead to overt censorship — and said the Chamber is working on a solution.
“We knew this would be a difficult issue. We believe that there are serious objections and legitimate ones that have been raised by some of our friends in the Internet business. We are working very, very hard to get those resolved,” Donohue said.
Donohue also said a lawsuit to challenge the recess appointments made to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the NLRB is still under consideration.
“Where we are is, we are not going to sue today because one has to see what he does and what the three new guys at the National Labor Relations Board do,” Donohue said. “This one, we are working our way through it.”
The business group is also planning to expand its voter education efforts in the 2012 elections after it had an influential role in the 2010 mid-terms. Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s chief lobbyist, said the business group will ramp up its efforts in 2012.
“We are going to have a bigger effort. We are going to spend more and do more in this cycle than the last cycle,” Josten said.
This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.
Andrew Restuccia and Amie Parnes contributed to this report.