CEOs give Washington their 2014 wish list

A business group that represents that nation’s chief executives on Wednesday presented its recipe for economic growth in 2014.

Leaders of The Business Roundtable said they were encouraged by the passage of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) budget proposal last month, and said lawmakers should follow it up with legislation to cut taxes, slash regulations and promote trade.

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Randall Stephenson, the Roundtable’s chairman, said economic growth has lagged for far too long.

“To be content with anything south of 3 percent or around 3 percent, we just think it's not logical. The potential is here for this thing to grow at a 4 percent clip,” Stephenson told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

Stephenson, the chairman and CEO of telecom giant AT&T, said tax reform needs to move forward on Capitol Hill despite the likely exit of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). The Roundtable says lower tax rates would make the United States more competitive.

“From our standpoint, this is so critical. If you asked us to identify one issue that could stimulate growth, tax reform, business tax reform is it. You mentioned both sides, both small business and large business. We think both need to be addressed,” Stephenson said.

The Roundtable has been an aggressive opponent of regulations from the Obama administration, arguing government rules are holding the country back.

Roundtable President John Engler said the country needs “the two-minute offense going out all over America to get economic development projects approved and under construction.”

“What you will see us doing is any new regulation, increase in regulation, we are going to be very diligent in quantifying the impacts of regulations,” Stephenson said.

Both Engler and Stephenson expressed confidence that Congress would allow President Obama’s renewed fast-track authority to move forward on trade deals, known as Trade Promotion Authority.

Business groups are lobbying hard in support of the fast-track power, arguing it is critical to getting trade pacts across the finish line.

Immigration reform is another Roundtable priority. Stephenson said lawmakers should sign off on more visas for high-tech workers as well as an improved visa process for temporary workers.

“I get a sense that there's momentum for doing something like this in Congress, and I hope [Obama] just does encourage it and it’s a high priority for his administration,” Stephenson said.

The Roundtable is seen as one of the most prominent voices for business in Washington, but unlike other trade groups, it doesn’t plan to wade into the coming election-year battle with the Tea Party. The group doesn’t have a political action committee and doesn’t endorse candidates.

“I enjoyed being a partisan but that's not the role I have now. I love the policy and we are trying to help the country,” Engler said.

“The issues that we are discussing, they are not red state, blue state issues. These are issues that we think are pro-America issues, they are all pro-growth issues, and to engage on a partisan basis would be detrimental to what we are trying to accomplish,” Stephenson said.

The group said it is heartened by approval of the Ryan-Murray budget plan and thinks Capitol Hill is moving back to regular order.

“It’s an indication that Congress is beginning to work, and it is beginning to function,” Stephenson said. “From business’s standpoint, you want to drive investments, you have got to give us some stability and predictability, and that’s we are now beginning to see with the Ryan budget plan.” 

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