Economy & Budget

Chamber’s ‘State of American Business’ only about big business

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The last few weeks have been very busy ones for news. Confirmation hearings began for several of President Trump’s Cabinet picks. And then of course Trump himself was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States on Friday. Lost in the media maelstrom, however, was another important event: U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue’s annual “State of American Business” address.

Over the past 10 years, with Democrats controlling either Congress, the White House or both, Donohue’s “State of American Business” speeches have served as little more than corporate wish lists with almost no chance of becoming policy.

But this year, with a Republican Congress that the Chamber spent big to elect and a Republican president almost completely devoid of policy ideas, much on Donohue’s wish list has a decent chance of becoming vital to the Trump/Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) agenda.

So if you want to get a handle on where Trump and the new Congress may steer the country, there’s no better place to start than with Donohue’s speech.

Donohue’s address was ostensibly all about increasing economic growth, but left unsaid was the critical question: growth for whom? While Donohue included some throwaway lines about “sound, long-term economic growth,” “expand[ing] incomes” and the importance of small business, the core of his speech focuses on three things: cutting Medicare and Social Security; rolling back important laws and regulations that protect workers, consumers and the environment; and cutting taxes on big corporations.

{mosads}First on Donohue’s agenda is cutting Social Security and Medicare. And it is here where Donohue’s mask first slips. Despite all the talk about growth and #LetsGrow emblazoned on the lectern in a nod to the Twitter-obsessed president, the Chamber isn’t actually concerned about growth, or at least not with growing incomes for the vast majority of Americans.


If the Chamber were actually concerned with growing Americans’ incomes and the American economy, it would understand that consumer spending represents almost 70 percent of gross domestic product. Of course, a lot of those consumers are seniors who receive Social Security benefits.

In 2012, 57 million Americans received almost $800 billion in Social Security benefits. Economists estimate that Social Security benefits in turn generate approximately $1.4 trillion in economic output and more than 9.2 million jobs.

Would the Chamber forgo this economic output and these jobs? The answer seems to be “yes.”

Next up on Donohue’s agenda is rolling back regulations. In his speech, he mentioned several that he wanted to see axed, including the overtime rule that would provide overtime pay to millions of middle-income Americans, the Clean Water Rule to protect our streams and rivers, the Clean Power Plan to limit power plant emissions of greenhouse gases and the open internet rules to preserve net neutrality.

He also called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Dodd-Frank Act, and specifically condemned the Volcker Rule, which limits speculative trades by banks like those that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

But Donohue’s anti-regulatory jeremiad didn’t end there. He also touted the deceptively named Regulatory Accountability Act that would hamstring future efforts to protect consumers, workers and the environment by layering on so many additional process requirements that rule-making to protect the public would grind to a halt.

He demanded that regulations limiting fossil fuel production be revoked. He railed against the fiduciary rule which would protect retirement savers from unscrupulous investment advisers. He criticized the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which has returned $11.4 billion to consumers harmed by the illegal practices of financial services corporations.

And he vowed to defend forced arbitration from regulatory action just as the CFPB and other agencies are beginning to crack down on these abusive ripoff clauses that harm consumers and small businesses.

Amazingly, Donohue justified killing all of these important and beneficial consumer, worker and environmental protections by claiming that they are harming small businesses.

First off, many of the laws regulations that have Donohue so exercised don’t even apply to small businesses, as is the case with the overtime rule, the ACA and many provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act. After all, when was the last time you met a Main Street businessperson who cared about rules regulating swaps, derivatives or other complex financial instruments?

Others, like the Clean Water Rule and the CFPB, actually help small businesses. Just like consumers, small businesses are often victimized by the shady lending practices of big financial services corporations. And yet the Chamber wants to gut the CFPB and defend forced arbitration.

So much for defending small businesses!

Last on Donohue’s agenda is a big cut to the corporate income tax rate. Donohue complained that the U.S. statutory rate is among the highest in the world, but what he didn’t say is that the effective corporate income tax rate is actually far below the average effective rate for industrialized countries.

The Chamber’s agenda has nothing to do with growth or with expanding incomes for working Americans or with defending small businesses from alleged regulatory overreach and everything to do with putting more money in the pockets of big corporations and the extremely rich executives who run them.

This trickle-down agenda will not produce the gross domestic product growth the Chamber claims. Even the International Monetary Fund has recognized that increasing income inequality is a drag on growth.

President Trump may have campaigned as a populist, claiming that he would stand up to special interests and fight for the interests of working people, but if Tom Donohue’s “State of American Business” address is anything to go by, Trump and the Republican Congress will pursue an agenda that puts Big Business and the wealthy first and everyone else last.

Perhaps the Chamber needs to come up with a new hashtag.


Dan Dudis is the director of Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch program.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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