The U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Trickle Downer of the Week


(Photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue speaks at the State of American Business 2015 event in Washington. 

The mood was jubilant in the headquarters of the United States Chamber of Commerce, an impressive stone building that looms across the street from the White House, as longtime president Tom Donohue made his annual “State of American Business” address Wednesday morning.

After eight years of a Democratic president who implemented, in the face of unprecedented levels of political opposition, a series of powerful industry regulations—from Obamacare and Dodd-Frank to the Clean Power Plan, the fiduciary rule, and a new overtime threshold—the GOP has secured full control of the federal government. And the Chamber of Commerce could not be more excited.

“We see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact major reforms that could transform the American economy from a low-growth to a high-growth economy,” Donohue pronounced to a room packed full of business leaders. Donohue pledged the chamber would pursue only those policies and reforms that meet its cultish adherence to “growth”—that is, expansive tax cuts and deregulation for corporations, at the expense of workers and consumers. “Growth is a choice—and not always an easy choice,” Donohue continued. “It’s tempting, especially in politics, to put other priorities ahead of growth—priorities that may please the voters or satisfy the demands of one constituency or another.”

Despite initial concerns that a Trump presidency would be hostile to the chamber’s mission of international trade and free markets, Donohue seems—at least outwardly—confident that the White House will be a fruitful partner.

The chamber’s top priority going into the 2017 will be overturning the regulatory executive actions of Obama’s presidency. The chamber, along with most Republicans, wants Trump to immediately undo Obama’s orders and get to work on killing the overtime rule (which doubled the salary threshold), the Clean Power Plan, and Net Neutrality. The chamber also pledged to continue challenging those regulations in the courts.

“There is no justification for the regulatory overkill we have seen over the last eight years,” Donohue said. “An unelected fourth branch of government—the regulatory branch—is holding our small-business sector back while imposing unnecessary costs on larger companies, too.” (Actually, the officials of the “unelected regulatory branch” are appointed by the elected president and confirmed by the elected Congress. If Donohue believes that doesn’t make them a legitimate part of the government, the chamber should oppose all of Trump's appointees.)

Donohue particularly singled out Obamacare and Dodd-Frank for repeal. Regardless of how it gets replaced, the group wants Obamacare’s employer mandate abolished, and with it the health insurance tax, the medical device tax, and the Cadillac tax.

The chamber also wants to roll back Obama’s financial regulations stemming from the passage of Dodd-Frank, including rules that limit banks from engaging in certain types of risky speculative investments and that require banks to adhere to stronger capital requirements. Additionally, it wants Congress to undercut the independent power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

A sweeping attack on financial, labor, health, consumer, and environmental regulations is just the beginning. The chamber also wants a complete neutering of the federal regulatory agencies, through new legislation that would further bog down the rulemaking process with dozens of delaying requirements, and would give Congress near-complete veto power over the executive branch’s regulatory authority.

Of course, a true trickle-down agenda wouldn’t be complete without tax cuts. “A real chance at major tax reform only comes around once in a generation, if you’re lucky,” Donohue said. “We might get lucky this year and next.”

“Tax reform,” of course, is Chamber-speak for tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. As a sacrifice at the altar of “growth,” the chamber wants corporate and individual tax rates drastically cut down, capital gains taxes slashed, and wants to permit corporations to bring back, tax-free, the billions in profits they’ve stashed abroad. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the most powerful forces in Washington. In 2016, it spent nearly $80 million on lobbying. During the 2016 election cycle, it spent $30 million on 16 House and Senate races—all of which went to Republicans, the first-ever electoral sweep for the chamber’s picks. In 2017, the chamber could become an even more powerful presence on the Hill, as regulatory rollbacks and tax cuts top the GOP’s agenda.

Donohue also issued a clear threat to Democrats who, in the Senate, could block the most drastic deregulatory measures. “We believe many Democrats will want to be constructively involved as well. After all, 25 Democratic senators are up for re-election in two years,” Donohue pointed out. “That’s one good reason to be constructive rather than obstructive.”

For its strong-armed commitment to gutting business regulations and heaping tax breaks to the top—with blatant disregard for workers, consumers, and the public good—we dub the U.S. Chamber of Commerce our Trickle Downer of the Week. 

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