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US Chamber of Commerce Blog

J.D. Harrison Tom DonohuePhoto by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

During his annual State of American Business address on Thursday, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue pointed out that the Obama administration has “put business on notice that it’s going for broke on regulations and executive orders in 2016 - Congress and economic growth be damned.” He later cited recent remarks by the White House chief of staff that the president intends to hand down “audacious executive action throughout the course of the rest of the year.”

Donohue then served notice right back: America’s business community intends to fight back.

“We’ll be employing all of our tools to challenge overregulation - working in the agencies, working with Congress through the appropriations process and the Congressional Review Act, and going to court,” he said during his remarks to a standing-room only audience gathered at the U.S. Chamber’s headquarters in Washington. More broadly, he added, the organization and its members intend “to vigorously challenge the vast regulatory state and work to reform the regulatory system itself."

At a news conference following his address, Donohue noted that there are certainly times when executive actions are appropriate, even necessary. However, too often in recent years that power has been abused by the current administration in order to circumvent the will of Congress, he said.

In his address, Donohue pointed to a number of regulatory battles coming down the pipe this year in Washington that the American business community will be watching closely. Here’s a rundown of some of the most threatening new rules and regulations he identified in his speech, as well as a look at how the U.S. Chamber and the broader business community are planning to fight back against them.

The Department of Labor’s proposed retirement rules: “We will place a particular focus on the Department of Labor’s flawed fiduciary rule,” Donohue stated. “This rule could actually limit small businesses’ access to retirement services or lock them out of the retirement market altogether.”

Additional Department of Labor rules, including overtime pay rules: “If I were running a small or large company, what I would be worried about more than anything else is the Department of Labor’s rules on employment, on pay, on benefits,” the Chamber CEO said on Thursday.

On Environmental Protection Agency regulations: “One of the chief ways we’re going to push back on some regulations is through courtroom advocacy,” Donohue explained during the address. “You can be sure that our Litigation Center will be busier than ever in the final year of this administration. Our law firm is already challenging the so-called Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the U.S. rule, and the administration’s new ozone rule. There will be others.”

New and existing financial regulations stemming from Dodd-Frank: “Do [the law’s supporters] really believe they achieved absolute perfection in a 2,300-page bill the first time around?” Donohue posed to the audience. “We’ll continue to work to fix the provisions that the law got wrong, add the provisions that the law left out, and replace the provisions that just don’t work.”

Health care regulations tied to the Affordable Care Act: “We have filed close to 100 comments with CMS and we have a staff that I think lives over there,” Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, said during the news conference. “We have had some recent success, as you may know, with CMS backing off some of the regulations. Look, this is another example like Dodd-Frank. When you have these humongous pieces of legislation, they’re going to demand changes going forward, and this one clearly demands changes.”

New regulations on the technology sector: No sector holds as much promise for America’s future than technology,” said Donohue. “Yet today our technology companies are facing a host of regulatory battles across the country and around the world. We must not allow the strong arms of government to put a choke hold on American technology and innovation.”

Collectively, Donohue and Josten agreed, these burdensome rules are strangling American businesses, putting a damper on job creation and holding back our country’s economic growth.

 “The current administration is on a regulatory tear—and this will continue until the day the moving van backs up to the door of the White House next January,” he said during the speech. In an interview later in the morning with Bloomberg Markets, again citing the promise of “audacious” executive actions from the administration, Donohue questioned: “You think that’s going to help the economy?”

Neither do we - and we intend to something about it.

U.S. Chamber Staff Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

In his State of American Business address Thursday, Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue offered a “look at how our economy and our country are doing through the eyes of America’s businesspeople.”

“The reality they see is a little different than the picture portrayed by our political leaders in Washington, D.C.,” Donohue said. "They see an economy with some strengths but many weaknesses. They see a country with a huge upside potential but with many downside risks. They see an America that is stuck in the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression, with little forward momentum or dynamism. And they know we could be doing much, much better than we are today."

The key to getting the economy moving again: We must remove the impediments that are holding it back while unlocking the tremendous potential America has been blessed with in so many areas.

"The state of the American economy may be risky and uncertain, but our future is not. It’s bright—if we pursue the right priorities and policies," Donohue said. "In the coming year and beyond, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to win the policies that will create jobs, foster growth, and expand opportunity for every community and every American."

Here’s a closer look at the Chamber agenda for 2016 and what else Donohue had to say.


“I can tell you that businesspeople at companies large and small wake up each morning and wonder what the government is going to do to them today. The current administration is on a regulatory tear—and this will continue until the day the moving van backs up to the door of the White House next January.”

-- Tom Donohue

The Chamber will continue to highlight the $2 trillion annual price tag businesses pay to comply with hundreds of thousands of regulations. We are already challenging the so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS), and the administration’s new ozone rule. The Regulatory Accountability Act is a major priority this year. It would ensure that the few regulations costing over a billion dollars — and having nationwide impact — would be narrowly tailored, supported by credible data and evidence, and impose the least possible burden while still implementing congressional intent. Entitlement Reform

“Now let me dare to go where most politicians fear to tread: The Chamber is going to bang the drum loudly throughout 2016 and beyond on the urgent need for entitlement reform.”

-- Tom Donohue

Programs like Social Security and Medicare will become insolvent sooner than you might think. Commonsense reforms now can ensure that the nation’s social safety net remains intact and that we have money for other important national priorities like education and national defense. There can be no solution to the nation’s long-term fiscal imbalances and our exploding national debt that does not involve reforming Social Security and Medicare, and for state budgets, Medicaid. Capital Markets So many new regulators have been turned loose on our financial sector that banks have been distracted and deterred from their critical primary purpose—to provide the credit and financial products that enable our businesses to grow and our entrepreneurs to thrive. We’ll continue to fix the provisions in Dodd-Frank that the law got wrong, add the provisions that the law left out, and replace the provisions that just don’t work. We’re going to support reforms to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while insisting that they go through normal processes to make rules, not backdoor enforcement or regulation by press release. Legal Reforms and Advocacy in the Courts The Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) and U.S. Chamber Litigation Center will work to remove barriers to growth by pursuing legal reform at the state and federal levels and representing the business community in the courts. Taxes The Chamber will continue to make the case for comprehensive tax reform to lower corporate and personal tax rates, broaden the base, and simplify compliance. We will work to end double taxation of foreign source income and prevent one-off tax increases on businesses, either to pay for unrelated spending initiatives or as punitive measures. The Chamber will work to fully and permanently repeal the Cadillac tax, the health insurance tax, and the medical device tax. Workforce Reforms One of the most significant barriers to the long-term success, growth, and competitiveness of the United States is our broken immigration system, problems in our K-12 schools, and our often ineffective worker training programs. Immigration reform is an economic and social necessity – and a reflection of who we are as a nation. We will never give up on this front because we must have talent and workers to keep up with the demands of an innovative economy and the costs of an aging society. We applaud the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act and are already working to ensure it is successfully implemented — especially its accountability provisions. Additionally, we’re encouraging more students to study in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We’re working to ensure that reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education bill reflects business needs and train students for jobs that are available now—and in the future.  Trade

"Given the weakness in global demand, we must do everything possible to remove trade barriers, form new commercial partnerships, and aggressively market American goods and services in traditional and nontraditional markets."

-- Tom Donohue

The Chamber has announced its support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. As we build support for the agreement, we are also strongly encouraging the‎ administration to work with Congress to address legitimate concerns expressed by industry and legislators. We are leading the business community’s efforts in support of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU. Both economies need the lift that such an agreement would provide. We’re working on a Trade in Services Agreement, and pursuing bilateral investment treaties with China and India. Energy

“Expanding America’s energy supply is another priority where progress can and must be made. We can and should be developing all kinds of energy and discriminating against none."

-- Tom Donohue

When it comes to energy, we should be developing all kinds and discriminating against none. The long-term need for energy is dramatically increasing. Responsibly expanding production on federal lands can help put folks back to work in the hard-hit energy industry and those that rely on it. The Chamber wants to expand emission-free sources like nuclear and renewables and press for greater gains in energy efficiency. We also are calling for an end to the regulatory assault on coal, an integral part of America’s energy mix. Technology With the right policies and public-private cooperation, technology can continue to be a major opportunity and a competitive advantage for the United States. Our Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation will marshal the many assets of the Chamber to help make sure our country remains the world’s undisputed technology leader. For American technology to thrive, our tech entrepreneurs must be able to access talent and capital. They need strong IP protections and need to be treated fairly and sensibly by domestic, European, and other regulators on issues of data flow and privacy. Infrastructure and Cybersecurity

“Then there are the many threats to our cybersecurity, which have the potential to shut down companies, our critical infrastructure, and our way of life. Businesses and governments are already spending billions of dollars to try to shore up the defenses of our cyber systems.”

-- Tom Donohue

While the passage of Chamber-backed cybersecurity information sharing legislation was critical, it is only the beginning. Our Chamber experts will work throughout the year to educate companies on the threats they face and work with them to protect their data systems. The Chamber’s 2016 infrastructure priorities include reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration — which expires in March — and the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which expires in September. Moving Forward

Donohue noted the lessons that can be taken from 2015, when many said D.C. was too divided to get much done.

“Working with others, we successfully advocated for Trade Promotion Authority, an end to the outmoded oil export ban, a multiyear transportation bill, reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank, the permanent extension of several tax provisions and multiyear extensions of many others, historic permitting reform to speed up projects, and critical cybersecurity legislation,” Donohue said, adding that “these victories enjoyed strong bipartisan support—and that’s been a long time coming.”

The Chamber will continue to make its push in 2016 for jobs, growth and opportunity.

“Winston Churchill—who seemed to understand America better than many of our own citizens—once said: ‘Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is—the strong horse that pulls the whole cart.’ Ladies and gentlemen, private enterprise has been shot at enough. And it has been milked unmercifully. It’s time to recognize that business can be that sturdy horse pulling the whole cart forward. Just give us a chance to show America what we can do.”

-- Tom Donohue

Sean Hackbarth A coal mound in Yolyn, W.V. A coal mound in Yolyn, W.V. Photo credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg.

The Obama administration is winning its war on coal. For eight years, President Barrack Obama has targeted the fossil fuel. In his infamous “skyrocket” chat with The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board, then presidential candidate Obama said, "If somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them."

Those efforts are paying off. The coal industry is taking it on the chin.

The Energy Information Administration released numbers showing that U.S. coal production has fallen to a 30-year low. Mining jobs have taken a hit too, falling every single month of 2015.

eia_us_coalproduction.png  U.S. coal production.EIA: U.S. coal production.Source: Energy Information Administration.

Part of what’s been happening is the shale boom has produced plentiful amounts of natural gas in the last few years that is going to generate electricity.

It would be understandable if coal’s troubles were simply due to market forces. Businesses and consumers adjust to changing supply and demand of energy sources. This dynamic process ensures greater productivity and economic progress.

But the deck has been stacked against coal. This administration has made specific regulatory choices to push coal out of the energy mix.

EPA imposed new rules on coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury. The Supreme Court struck down the rule in 2015, because the agency ignored examining compliance costs to determin if regulation was necessary. 

But the damage was done. Utilities couldn’t wait. While the courts decided the legality of the mercury rule, coal-fired power plants were shut down, which suited EPA’s McCarthy just fine as she gloated to Bill Mahr:

“This is a rule that actually regulates toxic pollution emissions from primarily coal facilities, and we think we’re going to win because we did a great job on it,” she said.

“But even if we don’t, it was three years ago. Most of them are already in compliance, investments have been made, and we’ll catch up. And we’re still going to get at the toxic pollution from these facilities.”

Following that are EPA’s carbon regulations—the Clean Power Plan--which push more coal-fired power plants to shut down, raising energy prices and making the power grid less reliable.

At the same time her agency unleashes regulatory attack after regulatory attack on the coal industry, Administrator McCarthy has the audacity to expect lots of future investment in alternative energy, telling the Council of Foreign Relations:

Frankly, a lot of the investment that would have been made before is so old and has not been invested in that now there is an opportunity for significant investment [in alternative energy], and that is going to be, I think, in a direction which we are seeing the energy world is heading.

One certainly should expect new investments in particular energy sources when federal regulators are choosing energy winners and losers. Electricity needed to keep lights on and power offices and factories has to come from somewhere.

But when coal is given a raw deal, the public will wind up paying the price in higher energy costs and less reliability.