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CEO DATELINE – Donohue: U.S. Chamber to continue pushing for immigration reform, infrastructure

Jan. 10, 2019
By Walt Williams

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will continue to pursue many of the same policy goals in 2019 as in the past, with immigration, free trade and infrastructure once again taking center stage.

Chamber CEO Tom Donohue outlined his group’s policy agenda for the coming year during his 2019 State of American Business Address in Washington, D.C. He hit familiar policy beats and steered clear of directly criticizing any individual politician or party, although he did warn against the rising support for “failed ideas like socialism”—an apparent reference to the growing number of Democratic politicians embracing the term.

“The Chamber’s agenda for 2019 and beyond is built around this simple idea—to harness our new-found economic strength, do everything we can to keep it going, and put it to work on behalf of all Americans who hope for a shot at their own unique American dream,” Donohue said.

The CEO broke down the Chamber’s policy agenda into five key areas:

Immigration: The Chamber has pushed back against the Trump administration’s efforts to sharply curtail legal immigration to the U.S. in the past and appears poised to continue to do so. Donohue called for protections for Dreamers—children who were illegally brought into the U.S. when they were very young—and long-term Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries. However, he also called for the “resources necessary to secure the border” but did not go into detail about what the Chamber would support.

Infrastructure improvement: Starting this year, the Chamber will offer cash prizes totaling $25,000 to people who can come up “with the best, most viable ideas for a long-term sustainable funding source for infrastructure,” Donohue said. He also reiterated his group’s support for Congress passing a “significant” infrastructure package paid for in part by an increase in the federal gas tax. “I’ve also said the Chamber is open to viable alternatives (to the tax)—but we haven’t heard too many other ideas.”

Global trade: Donohue urged lawmakers to advance U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, which Trump has put forward as a replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement. However, he pushed back against tariffs. “Let me be very clear. Tariffs are taxes paid for by American families and American businesses—not foreigners. Instead of undermining our own economy, let’s work with our allies to apply pressure on China and use the tools provided by U.S. trade and international laws that we helped create.”

Responsible governing: Donohue called for an end to “governing by crisis.” As a result, for the first time in 40 years, the Chamber is changing its legislative scorecard so that lawmakers are no longer graded just by how they voted on legislation. Showing leadership on “good legislation” and bipartisanship will now be taken into account. On Jan. 8, the Chamber issued a press release calling for an end to the partial government shutdown.

Protecting business: The Chamber is stepping up its fight against proxy advisory firms and “activist” shareholders with a new campaign “to meet these coordinated attacks head on,” Donohue said. “We are pursuing regulatory and legislative changes that make it easier for businesses to go and stay public … and that allow companies to focus on long-term growth. We’re working with the SEC and Congress to bring real transparency and oversight to proxy advisory firms and to reform the shareholder voting process. We’re educating directors so they are better armed to deal with public policy battles that are waged in the boardroom.”

Donohue's prepared remarks can be read here.