Chamber of Commerce: House climate bill adds to uncertainty for business

Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Thomas J. Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pictured here in 2005 as the guest at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington, DC.

The climate bill headed for a vote in the House on Friday adds to the climate of uncertainty troubling American businesses, says U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue.

“The bill that is up in the House has 402 new regulations that are going to affect how people can run their business and how they can apply their capital,” Donohue said at a Monitor-sponsored lunch for reporters. The Chamber opposes the House climate change bill although Donohue said the group does support legislation to deal with the issue.

The search for information

The flurry of legislation and regulation at the start of the Obama administration is, “more stuff in a shorter period of time in a smaller diameter pipe than I have ever seen,” he said.

The result of proposed new legislation and regulation is that “companies are waiting to get answers” on healthcare costs, climate regulations, and financial market rules, among other things, Donohue said. Such uncertainty has the potential to slow the pace of business investment.

The Chamber, which is the country’s most influential business lobby, plans a major advertising campaign to sing the praises of the free enterprise system at a time of increased government involvement in the economy. The Chamber program, called “Campaign for Free Enterprise” could cost up to $100 million.

Singing free enterprise's praises

“It is important for this country and many of our trading partners to look back over a period of time and assess what it was that made this country’s economy the envy of the world,” Donohue said. “It was an enterprise system that was based on open and free capital markets. It was a system that was based on free trade with all of its shortcomings. It was a system that was based on the right to fail and fall right on your kiester.”

The liberal columnist E. J. Dionne recently wrote that the chamber’s campaign “could be one of the year’s most consequential political developments” and should be viewed by the Obama administration as a “declaration of war.”

Donohue said the campaign was not an attack on the administration. “Absolutely not. It is not the intention, it is not the objective, and it is not what is going to come out.”

Not rolling over for Obama

The Chamber has good relations with the Obama White House, Donohue said. “There are no business people in the White House -- about none. There are a lot of smart people there,” the chamber executive said. He added, “We are dealing with them on all kinds of things.” Relations, he said, “are in fact even better than I thought they would be and we are trying to be fair and helpful. But that doesn’t mean we roll over and play dead just because they are excited about something when in fact we know it ain’t going to work.”

One area where Donohue expressed considerable skepticism was the Obama administration’s ability to bring down healthcare costs in the aggregate. Among the reasons that would be difficult, he said, was a planned reduction in the number of uninsured people, population growth, and the growing healthcare needs of aging baby boomers.

“So sure, we an cut costs on a per capita basis. We can become more efficient. We can become more effective. We can get better health results. But you are not going to lower the cost of across the board healthcare in this country unless you do one thing -- limit care," Donohue said.

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