U.S. Chamber of Commerce: 2019 State of American Business Address

Abstract of Tomas Donahue’s 2019 Annual Business Address.

Our own surveys find that optimism is consistently high. Business owners tell us they have been encouraged by stronger economic growth. We have achieved a growth rate in the last year that many “experts” claimed was out of reach. And it was driven in no small part by deregulation and tax reform. The Chamber projects continued growth of around 2.6% for 2019. We expect unemployment to remain low, wages to keep expanding, and inflation in range of the Fed’s target of 2%.

Now, there are some who seem determined to talk us into a downturn. But rumblings of a recession just don’t match up with reality. Even with all of the challenges in Washington, uncertainties in the world, and fluctuations in the markets, strong economic conditions are expected to hold steady for the foreseeable future.

These numbers are important—continued economic growth sets the table for almost everything else we want to achieve as a country. But growth is not an end in itself. Our economy is, and always has been, about people.

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.

Now, if I tried to spell out every part of this agenda, you and I would be here all day—and all night. I’m sure none of us want to do that! Instead, I’ll highlight five key priorities, tell you about a few other important pro-growth issues, and raise several longer-term concerns that I believe are well worth some careful thought and attention.

 

Workforce and Immigration

The first big issue centers on the American workforce.

We must have a steady supply of talented and hard-working people to do the work of a modern economy so our nation can compete and lead. And we need the right policies, systems, and opportunities in place to prepare those people so that they can compete and succeed.

It’s no secret that our nation is currently falling short on both of those imperatives…. The Chamber’s Foundation is creating business-led solutions, like Talent Pipeline Management, and has launched academies in 26 states to help businesses source and train workers.

We must not overlook those who are on the sidelines…The fact is, employers don’t have the workers they need at every skill level, and in key industries—such as health care, agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation.

So today we are calling on the president and Congress to come together and support a reasonable solution: Protection for the Dreamers and long-term Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries and the resources necessary to secure the border. The Chamber will continue to fight for these and other reforms.

 

Modern Infrastructure

You may not think of infrastructure as integral to opportunity. But our highways, bridges, ports, and waterways have long stood as monuments to American achievement—and they have literally moved the American Dream.

We want to keep it that way, which means we face the crucial task of modernizing the physical platform of our economy, much of which has already outlived its lifespan. Nearly everyone agrees that investing in our infrastructure is a major national priority—what’s missing is a sense of urgency. Things are only going to get worse, which is why we are calling on our leaders to pass a significant infrastructure package this year.

As everyone knows, the challenge is how to pay for it. You’ve heard me say for years that a modest increase to the motor vehicle fuel user fee—which hasn’t been adjusted in 25 years—can be a big part of the solution. I’ve also said the Chamber is open to viable alternatives—but we haven’t heard too many other ideas.

So we’re going to put some money on the table. The Chamber will be offering cash prizes totaling $25,000 to those who can come up with the best, most viable ideas for a long-term sustainable funding source for infrastructure. We want to hear from everyone—students, academics, business leaders, the people out there doing the building—everyone. We’ll consolidate and publish all of the good ideas we receive—and we’ll have a big debate starting February 5th at our annual Infrastructure Summit.

We’ll also talk about the Chamber’s other infrastructure priorities, including the urgent need for permitting reform and getting a whole army of people ready to do the work.

I’ve been working on these issues for more than 30 years. It is my hope that the public and private sector leaders of this country will finally come together and help build the next generation of U.S. infrastructure—a modern, safe, and efficient system that history will regard as one of the great American feats of the 21st century.

Is that too ambitious? Good. Let’s go do it.

 

Global Trade

Selling Made in America goods and services to the 95% of the world’s consumers who live outside the U.S. is absolutely fundamental to our growth and prosperity as a nation. In fact, 49 of every 50 U.S. companies that sells goods overseas are small businesses—many of them could not survive without trade, especially in America’s heartland. Trade also supports some 35 million American jobs—a number that could dramatically grow, or shrink, based on our nation’s trade policies.

To preserve and expand the robust trade that benefits so many Americans, our leaders should focus on several priorities.

First, we must advance strong new trade deals, starting with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement… This would be an encouraging sign for all of our partners, including those we’re pursuing new market-opening agreements with—Japan, the EU, and the UK.

And what about China? The Chamber supports the administration’s negotiations to address China’s theft of intellectual property, forced technology transfer practices, and other unfair trade and industrial policies.

What we don’t support is a trade war, which is being waged through mounting 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.

Limiting trade is self-defeating; leveraging trade is essential to success in a global economy and creating jobs.

 

Responsible Governing

Progress on these priorities requires responsible action by our nation’s leaders and lawmakers.

Given the rocky start to the year, it’s understandable there are questions about what can be accomplished under a sharply divided government. The divisions aren’t just between the parties—they’re within the parties.

Governing by crisis is no way to do the nation’s business. Our leaders must responsibly fulfill their duties. And not just because it’s their job to do so … but because dysfunction saps confidence, threatens growth, and consequently poses a threat to opportunity in this country…

This new approach reflects our belief that many of Washington’s troubles—including dysfunction, division, and incivility—could be helped by rebuilding the political center and restoring responsible governing.

 

Protecting Business

Government is an important partner in creating the conditions for growth, but it’s business that makes dreams possible by spreading opportunity, creating jobs, and generating wealth. When businesses thrive—communities thrive. Successful companies do a whole lot of good through philanthropy and corporate citizenship.

That’s why the Chamber is focused on defending the profoundly positive role of business in our economy and society—and fighting back against attacks, especially on public companies. I’m talking about a growing assault on companies who are being silenced, pressured, or intimidated into advancing narrow special interests—often at the expense of the companies, their shareholders, and their employees. These attacks are coming from some activist investors, proxy advisory firms, mass and class action trial lawyers, as well as some political activists and politicians.

They are a disincentive for companies to grow, or to go and stay public. And fewer public companies means fewer opportunities for Americans to build wealth through shared ownership.

So today we’re announcing that the Chamber is launching an aggressive and comprehensive new campaign to meet these coordinated attacks head on…

What we won’t do is stand by and allow Americans from all walks of life to be robbed of the opportunities to invest and take risks that are so essential to our prosperity and the American Dream.

 

The Broader Agenda for Growth

One is health care, which makes up 18% of our economy. The Chamber is focused on reforming the current system to reward value and quality while continuing to support innovation and access.

That means keeping America the pharmaceutical innovation lab of the world … and opposing price controls. It means finding the right policy mix so people can get the quality care they need while hospitals, insurers, and ERs are able to keep operating. Business can help make the numbers work. And it means giving workers and families the tools to take greater charge of their health through innovative programs and products, like health savings accounts.

We also have to respond to calls for government-run, single-payer health care—because it doesn’t work! We’ll use all of our resources to combat it.

Another key issue is energy. New and innovative ways to produce more American energy has lowered costs and improved efficiency, greatly benefiting businesses and families alike. But powerful forces want to reverse this progress. The Chamber is intensifying its efforts to combat the “Keep It in the Ground Movement,” eliminate bureaucratic delays to permitting, and promote new energy infrastructure to keep our resources—and our economy—moving.

Maintaining a dynamic and growing economy also requires prudent regulation and legal reform. We will continue to seize opportunities in the agencies and in the courts to restore common sense to rule-making, building on the progress of the last two years.

America’s tort system drains hundreds of billions of dollars from our economy, and undermines justice. The Chamber will keep up our 20-year fight for commonsense legal reforms at the federal and state levels, including fixing the broken mass and class action system, stopping asbestos litigation abuse, and pushing back hard against over-enforcement.

We’re also focused on robust cybersecurity. Malicious cyberattacks cost our economy up to $109 billion a year. Cyber challenges, such as protecting critical infrastructure and addressing liability concerns, require a coordinated effort by business and government. The Chamber is helping lead that partnership. We also continue to help businesses of all sizes understand, anticipate, and mitigate cyberattacks.

Finally, we can’t overlook the reality that America’s powerhouse economy has been fueled by advanced technology and intellectual property. The Chamber advocates for rational policy solutions to capitalize on the promise of technology.

 

Download the Full Speech

 

Overarching Concerns

First, authoritarian regimes are on the rise across the globe. The U.S. and our allies spent the last 70 years working to expand democracy and freedom, which has played a large role in global growth and progress ever since. Today, we face the task of rebuilding domestic consensus for supporting democracy abroad—and the Chamber is poised to lead.

We must also reaffirm and modernize multilateral and regional organizations and cooperative arrangements—such as the WTO, NATO, the EU, and others. Let’s not lose sight of the extraordinary prosperity and peace they’ve provided for three quarters of a century.

Second, and closely related, free speech is under assault at home and abroad. When governments move from regulating conduct to regulating or even suppressing opinion, a dangerous line has been crossed. There’s an answer to speech you don’t like—it’s more speech! Not less. The same is true in politics. We need more voices participating in the process, not fewer. And we must guard against any effort to silence the voice of business—or any other voice—through threats, intimidation, or excessive regulations.

Third, we all marvel at and benefit from rapid technological advancement. But the misuse of technology and data by even a few bad actors is dangerous and invites the very thing I warned about last year—a techlash. And then you risk strangling the goose that laid the golden egg with overregulation.

Fourth, anyone who thought I wasn’t going to mention the looming insolvency of our entitlement programs doesn’t know me very well! If we fail to act, it will be a one-two punch to the American Dream: the most vulnerable will be left with a fraying safety net, and future generations will be left with mountains of debt that make today’s debt look like the proverbial mole hill.

Fifth, and finally, there is a lack of appreciation for the free enterprise system. Failed ideas like socialism or government-managed economies are steadily creeping into the political mainstream.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to stick with the entrepreneurs, the innovators, and the dreamers.

 

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, American business is the product of American dreamers—and it is the conduit for American dreams.

We’re working to foster the world’s most competitive workforce—so businesses have deep wells of talent to draw from and people have broad opportunities to succeed…

And we’re confronting attacks on companies and assaults on free enterprise so that businesses can continue to do what they do best: create opportunity and fuel the dreams of all Americans.

We are a nation of dreamers. Even better, we are a nation where dreams can be achieved.

Let’s keep it that way. Thank you very much.