The most powerful business advocacy organization in the country is reiterating its commitment to working with both sides of the aisle for the sake of industry.
Chamber leaders say they believe a strong center-left and center-right coalition is essential for adopting durable public policy solutions.
“It’s very unfortunate that the far right has gone very far right, and the far left has gone very far left. If you think about this, there is a hole in the middle,” President and CEO Tom Donohue said in a Washington Post article last week that details two years of interviews with chamber executives and their efforts to “adapt, evolve and lead” in this politically divided atmosphere.
“So what we’re doing – and this is critical – is adjusting and responding to the new politics. We’re adjusting and responding to the new Congress and the way the administration operates,” said Donohue, whose 107-year-old organization represents more than 3 million businesses and generates more than $230 million in annual revenue. “The people that win in sports and in politics and in business are the people that are not so focused on one approach but are ready to adjust.”
In recent years, chamber leaders have been building more alliances with Democratic leaders to promote collaborative relationships to get support for pro-business bills, executives said.
“If anybody here ever thought of themselves as working for a partisan place, they should stop,” Senior Executive Vice President Suzanne Clark told the Post. “Because if we are for free trade, we have to be for whoever wants to work with us on that. We complained all the time that there was no middle … and then some people started pushing back and saying well you’re not supporting the middle. Everybody keeps worrying about the majority in any one moment, so who is creating the middle?”
Taking on the political divide
While the Chamber applauds the GOP and President Donald Trump’s pro-business policies, including deregulation and tax reform, it has not supported other White House actions.
Trump and the GOP’s sway toward more protectionism and isolationism is contrary to chamber goals to expand free trade, reduce tariffs, promote legal immigration, and fix the nation’s outdated infrastructure.
Not only does the chamber want to see more traction in these areas, it also wants to promote a cultural shift out of the political divide, Michelle Russo, chief communications officer for the chamber, said in a statement April 25.
“The Washington Post detailed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s recent evolution and growth, as well as the way we are ‘navigating dramatic cultural change that’s transforming the worlds of politics and business,’” Russo said.
To accomplish true change, government must lead responsibly, Donohue said in his 2019 American State of Business Address. In it, he lays out a “wish list for good government”:
Certainty: U.S. leaders can foster certainty for businesses by fulfilling their basic duties. This means keeping the government’s lights on, setting and passing responsible budgets, and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. The alternatives – governing from crisis to crisis and spending with reckless abandon – are not how the nation should conduct business.
Growth: National leaders can help set the conditions for continued economic growth by advancing the right policies and passing good legislation. The economy hit its stride in 2018, thanks in part to tax reform and deregulation. That momentum needs to continue this year with a major infrastructure package, meaningful immigration reform, and a smart trade agenda that maximizes growth and minimizes risk.
Proactive Leadership: Leaders should anticipate and address looming challenges before they become full-blown crises. For example, the country’s entitlement programs are on an unsustainable course. Without action soon, vulnerable Americans will be left without a social safety net and future generations will be left with mountains of debt.
Bipartisanship: American leaders will be able to govern more effectively and productively if they commit to working on a bipartisan basis. In fact, the current divided government requires that lawmakers reach across the aisle to get almost anything done. No one wants to see two years of gridlock. So the challenge to the 116th Congress is to spend less time focusing on disagreement and more time seeking meaningful compromise.
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