The head of the nation’s largest and most influential advocate for business vowed Wednesday to be deeply involved in the 2014 elections, both on the issues and in campaign finance.In a news conference after delivering his annual State of American Business Address, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue promised to be involved “right from the beginning” in the coming mid-term November elections.
“Our response for this will be very significant,” Donohue said, having emphasized in his address involvement in state-level elections for attorney generals and court seats.
These are important to the chamber because it has pushed for limits on lawsuits and it dislikes many of the coalitions of attorney generals that force settlements with large financial institutions and big corporations.
The 2014 election cycle will be an interesting one for the chamber, always an influential voice in campaigns because of its deep pockets. After the Tea Party-led partial shutdown of the government last year and fears of a self-directed default on government debt, the chamber and other business organizations vowed to get involved in Republican primaries to back pro-business candidates.
In normal times, the chamber tends to back Republicans over Democrats in general elections and largely is not as involved in internal GOP debates.
One example of this shifting internal politics is the proposed revamp of immigration policies. The chamber was an active supporter of the Obama administration’s efforts to ease immigration and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now living in the United States_ an idea that began with President George W. Bush.
But while pro-business Republicans favor a revamp in order to boost the workforce for labor-intensive industries, compromise has proved elusive in the House of Representatives, where the more conservative Tea Party members remain in stalwart opposition. Support was greater in the Senate, which passed a bipartisan bill last year.
“2013 we liked. We did that on a cooperative basis with the AFL-CIO and lots of other people,” Donohue said of the Senate compromise, pledging to continue working with faith-based groups and other social-minded organizations to build momentum in the House.
In a rare word of praise for President Barack Obama, Donohue noted that the administration in its second term has more aggressively sought trade deals with Europe, Asia and elsewhere. These efforts, he said, “will create a good deal of economic growth and opportunity.”
B ut that praise ended quickly when the silver-haired chamber leader criticized the administration’s energy policies, particularly the continued roadblocks facing the Keystone pipeline coming out of Canada and through the Midwest. He acknowledged, however, that Obama has not blocked expansion of technological breakthoughs that allowed the United States to sharply boost domestic production in states such as North Dakota and Montana.
“We are finally facing up to the fact that there are many, many job opportunities if we can get the government to help make it happen. That’s energy, trade, the whole question of investment and where it’s going,” he said, predicting that the U.S. government will eventually allow for the export of American oil after decades of restriction. “I think we’re going in the right direction.”
The chamber frowned on the issue of income inequality, shaping up as the top Democratic theme during this election year. During his address, Donohue mockingly noted the American promise was one of “opportunity not outcome.”
Asked if he disagreed with theme that’ll dominate the president’s State of the Union address later this month, Donohue noted that the “White House has chose (sic), it appears, to make this their approach over the next year.”
In the same answer, Donohue qualified that “if” there is income inequality, the “view from across the street is that more government programs are going to create more jobs. Our view is that more freedom for the job creators is going to create more jobs.”
In the long run, warned the CEO of the chamber, which looks out across a park at the White House, an education system that allows 30 percent or more of high school students to drop out is the biggest economic threat the nation faces.
Technology and foreign competition he said, have done away with most low-skill, labor-intensive jobs.
“That is denying people opportunity. That is creating inequality. That is something that we need to do something about,” Donohue said, repeating a theme he peppered throughout the address and news conference.