The head of U.S. Chamber of Commerce blasted the federal government Thursday for what she described as its polarization, overreach and inability to act strategically, as she also called for action in areas such as permitting reform, immigration and trade.
“Business demands better from our government, because, when it comes to Washington, the state of American business is fed up,” said the lobbying group’s president and CEO, Suzanne Clark, as she delivered an annual “State of American Business” speech.
“ ‘What so many of you tell us is that the state of your own business is strong, but the state of the economy is fragile, and confidence in our government to do the right thing is low.’”
— Suzanne Clark, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
She said there are too many instances in which the government isn’t working, citing a migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, problems with processing visas for much-needed engineers and nurses, delays in approvals for infrastructure
projects, and a tendency to turn energy
policy into a “false, binary choice between energy security and energy transition.”
The U.S. Chamber looked at annual disclosures by S&P 500
companies over the last decade and found mentions of risks posed by government agencies and policies rose by 30%, according to Clark.
“The only risk that businesses say is rising — is getting worse — is the risk that comes from our own government,” she said.
The U.S. Chamber boss also said she and her colleagues see companies’ lack of trust in Washington weighing on the economy. “What so many of you tell us is that the state of your own business is strong, but the state of the economy is fragile, and confidence in our government to do the right thing is low,” Clark said.
“In fact, we’ve heard this mixed sentiment so much that we gave it a name — secondhand pessimism. And the risk is that secondhand pessimism becomes firsthand. That fears about the economy, compounded by doubt in Washington, push businesses to act in a way that turns those concerns into reality.”
Clark called for Congress to pass meaningful permitting reform. There were two different proposals for energy permitting last year from West Virginia’s senators — Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito.
Following Clark’s speech, the U.S. Chamber’s chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, sounded upbeat about building on those two plans. “If you actually put those proposals side to side, there’s a lot more areas of agreement between those two, than there are areas of disagreement,” Bradley said during a news conference.
“I’m confident that with a little bit of time, without the deadline at the end of the year and the Congress expiring, that we can work those out.”
Regarding progress on immigration, Clark said during the news conference that she was optimistic in part due to a proposal from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who recently switched her affiliation from Democratic to independent, and Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, that paired more money for border security with protections for “Dreamers,” or undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
“Our hope that we can actually get something done here comes from the fact that there was pretty good bipartisan talks at the end of last year,” she said.
Clark’s comments on trade on Thursday echoed her remarks during her “State of American Business” speech last year. She said the U.S. is falling behind other countries when it comes to trade deals, as it hasn’t entered an agreement with a new trade partner in a decade.
The U.S. Chamber has ranked as the biggest spender on Washington lobbying in the past two years, according to an OpenSecrets.org analysis of disclosures. It shelled out $59.6 million to influence policy makers in 2022’s first three quarters, ahead of the National Association of Realtors at $56.4 million and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) at $22.4 million. Filings for last year’s fourth quarter are due next week.