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Sean Hackbarth U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue delivering the 2015 State of American Business Address.Photo credit: Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

2015 is “no time to be complacent” about the economy, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue warned in the 2015 State of American Business Address:

We’ve had a few good quarters of economic growth. But we’re not out of the woods. There are many risks and challenges facing our economy that have the potential to send us right back to the doldrums—or worse.

For instance, we still have a troubled labor market:

We can’t forget that 17.7 million Americans are still unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work. Participation in the workforce stands at 62.7%, the lowest since 1978, reflecting a significant level of discouragement.

“Current policies have eroded our economy’s long-term potential rate of growth,” said Donohue:

It would be a serious mistake to think that higher taxes, a bigger debt, and more regulations can deliver more growth, jobs, and prosperity. They will deliver less.

However, national leaders have an opportunity to advance a growth agenda. A new year brings a new Congress, Donohue said, that “has something to prove to the voters who elected them.” He added, "They need to legislate. The president needs to engage. Together, they need to govern."

The U.S. Chamber’s Jobs, Growth, and Opportunity Agenda is a pro-growth blueprint. Here are 13 issues from Donohue's speech that Washington can address to encourage stronger and deeper economic growth:

1. Trade.

The administration is negotiating two historic trade agreements—the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The Chamber has supported these initiatives from the very beginning.

The president has said that he is committed to finishing the job on both pacts, but he’s going to need Trade Promotion Authority from the Congress to do it. He must really fight for it, especially before members of his own party. Enacting TPA so that we can finish these agreements is one of our top legislative priorities for this year.

2. Energy.

Even with the recent decline in energy prices, abundant domestic energy still stands out as an extraordinary opportunity to generate millions of jobs, billions in revenues for government, and trillions in new investment while securing affordable energy for American consumers.

Congress and the administration should take the needed steps to unleash this energy revolution in an environmentally responsible way—and we should reform export rules so that we can sell this energy when appropriate around the world.

3. The Internet.

We recognize that the issue of net neutrality divides the tech community, but there can be no neutrality as far as the Chamber is concerned. We oppose efforts to regulate the Internet as if it were a 20th century public utility.

The Internet is one of the greatest drivers of prosperity and innovation in our economy. We need to develop better and smarter frameworks for data security and sharing—but the system must remain open, flexible, and innovative—and excessive government regulation of the Internet would just kill that goose.

4. Infrastructure.

We’re asking Congress to pass a long-term highway and mass transit bill with full funding—along with appropriate reforms. We must fully fund our aviation and water systems as well.

5. Immigration Reform.

We are renewing our call for commonsense measures that not only better secure our borders but also provide the American economy with the workers it needs at all skill levels, improve the employment verification system, and deal with undocumented immigrants.

6. Regulatory Reform.

Business recognizes the need for smart regulations. But with a $2 trillion price tag in compliance costs imposed by a virtual fourth branch of government, it’s time to bring the system into the 21st century.

The Chamber will launch an all-out effort to pass three regulatory reform bills that already enjoy significant bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. The bills would modernize the process by which new rules are considered and promulgated, bring transparency and accountability to the now abusive process known as “sue and settle,” and streamline the permitting process once regulations are in place.

7. EPA.

While we strongly support technological solutions to address greenhouse gas emissions, we do not believe that regulation of these emissions through the Clean Air Act is appropriate or workable.

8. Health Care.

We support congressional efforts to restore the 40-hour workweek to define who must be covered under the employer health care mandate. We’ll work to repeal taxes such as the medical device tax, the Cadillac tax, and the health insurance tax.

9. Financial Regulation.

We need a modern regulatory system that both drives financial stability and encourages capital formation.

The Chamber has supported positive steps to strengthen corporate governance. However, we will continue to vigorously oppose using the proxy to advance special interest agendas. We will also continue to push for reform of secretive proxy advisory firms.     

The Chamber will also seek further targeted fixes to Dodd-Frank. For example, the Financial Stability Oversight Council is considering overdue and necessary changes to its systemically important designation process.

In addition, both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research ought to be placed under the appropriations process. 

10. Tax Reform.

The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. We adhere to a system of “world-wide” taxation discarded by most other major countries. As a result, American businesses pay taxes twice, first to the foreign country in which they do business and then to Uncle Sam after they bring their profits home.

And since 28 million businesses pay their taxes as individuals, we also need reform at the same time on the individual side of the code. We need to end the bias against investment and spur small business startups, which have been lagging for a protracted period of time yet are absolutely critical to new job growth.

Republican leaders and the president all say that tax reform will be a priority in 2015. The Chamber plans to be at the table—on the theory that if you are not at the table, then you are on the menu. We will encourage genuine efforts to create a simpler, fairer, pro-growth tax system. We will not support an approach that uses tax reform as an excuse to engineer another big tax increase on the American business community.

11. Debt, Deficits, and Entitlement Reform.

More than anything else, the nation’s massive debt is being driven by entitlement costs. By 2024, federal spending will be $5.8 trillion, and more than 76% of that will go to mandatory programs plus interest on the national debt. That leaves less than 24% for national defense, important domestic programs, and everything else.

America’s leaders need to start telling the American people the truth. The entitlement crisis is an entirely predictable crisis. It demands action and leadership without further delay.

12. Legal Reform.

America still has the costliest legal system in the world.

Even more disturbing, America’s enforcement system has turned into a shakedown operation. Enforcement officials find a company that may or may not have done something wrong, threaten its managers with commercial ruin, and then force them to pay an enormous fine to drop—or not file—the charges.

Our agenda includes curbing these excesses, plus reforming legal systems in key states and jurisdictions, preserving the availability of arbitration, passing the FACT Act to help prevent fraudulent asbestos claims, and challenging foreign governments that are foolishly considering the adoption of American-style class action lawsuits.

13. Education.

We must ramp up efforts to reform public schools—to toughen the standards and measure them against prior years so that we know when students are falling behind. We also need to remove bad teachers and pay good teachers more, create more innovative charter schools, and ensure that parental choice is an option not just in wealthy communities but in all communities.

Donohue said Washington can and must work for the people it serves:

A governing center suggests you can be a committed conservative, a passionate progressive, or even one of a dwindling number of moderates, and still find a way to work together. Sometimes you can find common ground. But more often than not you acknowledge your differences and just make a deal.

That’s how governing is supposed to work in a democracy.

Common ground can be found. It's policies that create more jobs, higher wages, and a more robust economy. Let's get to work.

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Updated 10:45 a.m.
Members of the press wait for U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue and Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten. This is a unique opportunity and rare access for media to ask any policy-related question.
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 9:45 a.m.

​U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue gives his annual State of American Business address on Jan. 14, 2015. The event outlines the business community's top policy priorities for the year and introduces the 2015 Jobs, Growth and Opportunity Agenda to encourage job growth, higher wages and a stronger economy.  

tjd_backdrop.jpg Backdrop of U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue during his annual State of American Business address


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Members of the press listen during the U.S. Chamber's State of American Business address.

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Sean Hackbarth Demonstrators hold signs during a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline outside of the White House.

This week, the Senate begins debate on the Keystone XL pipeline. A Politico Magazine story puts the fight over it in the bigger context of building necessary energy infrastructure projects:

As Keystone’s problems imprint themselves on the nation’s political DNA, environmentalists and local advocacy groups are using the same template that has stalled it for six years to stoke resistance to fossil-fuel projects from coast to coast. Word is out in the oil and gas industry that NIMBY is the new normal. From fuel-starved New England to the refinery country of California, the legacy of the pipeline fight has become an organized and galvanized local resistance to new energy infrastructure.

Anti-energy groups have a term for this relentless opposition: “Blockadia.” Naomi Klein, a leader of the movement explained the term in a 2014 interview:

“Blockadia” is a term that was first coined in the movement against the Keystone XL Pipeline in Texas. These are the people who are blocking the fossil fuel projects with their bodies and in the courts and in the streets. And we see these choke-points being developed and people are realizing, “If we block the coal ports in Washington State and Oregon, then there’s no point digging it out in Montana because they’re not going to be able to get the coal shipped out to China. So let’s pour our energy into stopping those coal ports.” And that’s what people have been doing. The same is true of the pipeline fights – and not just against the Keystone Pipeline, but the Northern Gateway Pipeline and others as well.

In the case of pipelines, it’s dramatically lengthened the time needed to plan, permit, and build pipelines, which has cost people jobs and denied local communities economic growth and tax revenue.

But for activists, creating delays isn't enough. In her Politico Magazine piece, Elana Schor, quotes how extreme Klein and her fellow activists are:

“But the French anti-fracking activists have a slogan, ‘Ni ici, ni ailleurs,’ “not here or anywhere,’” the Canadian activist added. “And that’s really the spirit of it. It’s drawing the line. And you often hear that slogan whether people are fighting pipelines or fighting fracking or coal export terminals up and down the Pacific Northwest.”

They don’t want oil, natural gas, or used at all and are abusing the permitting process to do it. This runs counter to the fact that fossil fuels are cheap and abundant. In its Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration expects fossil fuels to be used in about the same proportions for decades to come.

eia_energyoutlook2014_energyconsumption_800px.jpg  1980-2040 Energy Information Administration chart on primary energy consumption: 1980-2040

Unfortunately by disrupting the normal process for approving energy infrastructure projects with endless Keystone XL delays the Obama administration has fed these opposition groups. It’s turned opposition from being NIMBY--Not In My Backyard--to BANANA--Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy explained the BANANA phenomenon to House Members in 2013:

Indeed, the Keystone XL delay is a symptom of a much bigger and costly problem. Much of our energy infrastructure is increasingly inadequate to meet current and projected demand. Providing energy is a long and capital-intensive undertaking, and new energy infrastructure projects require long lead times and massive amounts—tens of trillions of dollars over the next few decades—of new investment.

Unfortunately, our energy sector suffers from a lengthy, unpredictable, and needlessly complex regulatory maze that delays, and often halts, the construction of new energy infrastructure. Federal and state siting and permitting reviews and rules are used routinely to block the construction and expansion of needed energy infrastructure.

For example, installation of required transmission infrastructure has not kept pace with investments in new power generation; export terminals for both LNG and coal face lengthy approval processes from multiple agencies; and limitations on access to federal onshore and offshore lands in Alaska is challenging the operating capacity of Trans Alaska Pipeline System.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of issues created by our shortsighted and complex permitting and regulatory system.

Despite anti-energy obstructionists’ agitation, the public continues to support energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline symbolizes a dysfunctional federal permitting process that must be streamlined. As the U.S. economy continues to recover, it will need ready access to energy. Without adequate and reliable energy infrastructure, sustained growth for our 21st Century economy will be impossible. Jobs will be lost and wages will stagnate.

Sean Hackbarth President Obama has no more excuses for delaying the Keystone XL pipeline.

Another excuse for President Obama to delay deciding on the Keystone XL pipeline bites the dust. Here is what you need to know about a Nebraska court ruling and the fate of the pipeline.

The Nebraska State Supreme Court left intact a state law that gave its governor the authority to approve the Keystone XL pipeline route, Reuters reports

[The ruling reverses] a lower court that had blocked the proposal and clearing the way for a U.S. State Department ruling on the plan. 

The court said it was divided and could not reach a substantive decision, leaving in place legislation that favored TransCanada Corp and its claim to build a crude oil pipeline across the state.

The Nebraska legal issue was the latest self-created roadblock the administration has used in its six-plus years of delay in approving the pipeline. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters recently:

There continues to be an outstanding question about the route of the pipeline through one part of Nebraska…. Once that is resolved, that should speed the completion of the evaluation of that project.

The Nebraska Supreme Court has resolved it.

“The Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision removes the last excuse that the Obama administration has been using to justify the unconscionable delays in the permitting process for the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in a statement.

The ball goes back to the State Department to determine if the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest. In 2010 as one of the five studies were underway, then Secretary Hillary Clinton said the State Department was “inclined” to approve the pipeline. Based on its latest analysis the pipeline will create 42,000 jobs, generate $3.4 billion in economic activity, and produce $55.6 million in local property taxes annually once it’s operating. All of this with little environmental impact.

To any ordinary person, this project is in the national interest, and Secretary John Kerry should approve it.

If the State Department does approve the project, but another agency objects—like EPA, which has been critical—then President Obama makes the final decision.

Harbert wants him to say, “Yes”:

It is time for President Obama to approve the pipeline—no more excuses, no more delays. A strong, bipartisan majority of Americans expect nothing less. Delaying the decision further will only expose this administration to valid accusations of political posturing.

Even as legal questions in Nebraska have been settled, work continues in Congress.

Today, the House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill that would approve construction of the pipeline. Next week, the Senate is expected to begin debate on a similar bill.

Tell Congress to support the Keystone XL pipeline.

Unfortunately the White House reaffirmed its veto threat despite the settlement of the Nebraska question:

Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests, and if presented to the President, he will veto the bill.

The administration’s obstruction runs counter to public opinion even in Nebraska, where opponents have focused much of their attention.

A Nebraska poll released in December showed that a 55% of Nebraskans support the pipeline.

omaha_world_herald_keystone_poll_122014.jpg  55% of Nebraskans support the Keystone XL pipeline. Chart: 55% of Nebraskans support the Keystone XL pipeline.

Nationally, even stronger majorities support the pipeline. A December 2014 Fox News poll found nearly 70% support it, and a Pew Research Center poll found majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents back the project.

Either through federal permitting or legislation, the Keystone XL pipeline should be approved. It’s a job-creator, a benefit to state and national economies, has broad support, and will reassure people that it’s possible to build big things in America.

Sean Hackbarth Steel pipe for the Keystone XL pipeline piled near Gascoyne, North Dakota.Pipe to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline in a field in Gascoyne, ND. Photo credit: Sean Hackbarth.

On the first day of taking control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans ran into some trouble:

Democrats managed to put the kibosh on a planned Energy and Natural Resources [ENR] Committee hearing today on Keystone XL, forcing Republicans to cancel the event. Sen. Dick Durbin, on behalf of Barbara Boxer, objected to a GOP floor move seeking unanimous consent to appoint Lisa Murkowski and Maria Cantwell as the leaders of ENR. The appointment was necessary for the move to take place because Democrats do no formally organize until today. Objecting to the UC request prevented the committee from being able to organize in time for today's hearing, which was then scrapped.

While a minor setback, it typifies the many delays and obstacles put in front of the Keystone XL pipeline since permits applications were filed in 2008.

However, as soon as the bill to approve the job-creating, energy infrastructure project was filed in the Senate, the White House threatened to veto it.

The Statement of Administration Policy on the bill states the bill “seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines serve the national interest” and “prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues.”

In other words, the President wants you to believe that there hasn’t been enough time to study the pipeline.

That’s absurd.

The Keystone XL pipeline has been studied for over six years. Five times, the State Department has issued reports that the project would have minimal impact on the environment.  

00_energy_keystone_osfc_800px.jpg Oil Sands Fact Check Keystone XL timeline.Oil Sands Fact Check Keystone XL timeline.

In the time it's been studied you could have built one Golden Gate Bridge (with time to spare), built three Pentagons, or watched all six Star Wars movies 3,917 times.

The most recent State Department analysis found that along with little environmental impact, the Keystone XL pipeline will create 42,000 jobs, generate $3.4 billion in economic activity, and generate $55.6 million in local property taxes once it’s operating.

taxfoundation_keystonexl_propertytaxes.jpg  Tax Foundation.Estimated local property taxes from the Keystone XL pipeline. Source: Tax Foundation.

Reaction to the President’s veto threat was greeted with bipartisan disappointment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

I assure you, threatening to veto a jobs and infrastructure bill within minutes of a new Congress taking the oath of office — a bill with strong bipartisan support — is anything but productive.

Bill co-sponsor, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV):

His decision to veto such a commonsense bill prior to the unfolding of regular congressional order and the offering of amendments appears premature and does little to mitigate the congressional gridlock. It is time that we address the critical issues of moving America toward energy independence and fostering job growth and economic prosperity.

By working at a snail’s pace, the administration has turned this project into a mobilization tool for anti-energy activists. It has allowed special interest demagoguery to trump sober policy analysis and made the Keystone XL pipeline a symbol of a dysfunctional federal permitting process.  People in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and the rest of America have waited long enough.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board advised Congress to vote to approve the pipeline anyway [subscription required]:

Members of both parties should move ahead despite the veto threat and call his bluff. At least the country will see who is the real obstacle to faster growth and job creation.

Agree. Tell Congress to support the Keystone XL pipeline.

Businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs wondering if it’s still possible to build big things in America are watching, labor unions that support the pipeline are watching, and a majority of the public who supports the pipeline is watching.

pew_poll_keystonexl_11_2014.png Pew Research Poll on the Keystone XL pipeline.Pew Research Poll on the Keystone XL pipeline.

 

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