WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the annual State of American Business speech on Tuesday, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas J. Donohue outlined the path for a widespread economic recovery through a bold agenda of infrastructure investments, workforce reskilling, immigration reforms, and reinvigorating America’s global competitiveness. Additionally, he warned that excessive regulations and anti-competitive taxes would undermine the recovery.
“In the face of significant challenges, including a global pandemic and an economic crisis, businesses have adapted to survive, they have served their communities and this country, and they have put forward life-saving, world-changing solutions,” Donohue said, speaking before a global audience of as many as 10,000 (registered attendees). “The State of American Business is resilient.”
Similarly, in the wake of the violence and rioting at the U.S. Capitol building last week, Donohue also stressed the determined leadership of government.
“Let me say unequivocally—violence has no place in our democracy,” he said. “But our democracy is strong. Our commitment to the rule of law is unwavering. And our government is resilient.”
An Uneven Recovery & 10 Million Jobs Lost
“Some industries, businesses, and segments of the workforce have thrived,” he said, noting the surging stock market, housing prices, and some companies and industries thriving amid the pandemic. “But it’s a very different story for those who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Entire industries have been decimated because people aren’t traveling, gathering, shopping, or going out like they used to.”
With 10 million American jobs lost in the last year, and small business disproportionately impacted – particularly minority- and women-owned businesses, many of which have closed – Donohue urged policymakers to focus on a broad-based economic recovery.
“We won’t restore the jobs, growth, and prosperity that were lost in 2020 until we eradicate the pandemic and get our economy firing on all cylinders,” Donohue said. “And for that to happen, our elected officials must pull all the right policy levers—and push back against misguided proposals—in 2021.”
Donohue stressed that the Chamber will work with the incoming Congress and Biden administration to ensure industries, businesses and workers make it through the end of the pandemic economic crisis. He added that if Congress sufficiently supports the economy with additional relief, economic growth could return to pre-pandemic levels by the third quarter of this year.
“This must include all the support necessary to get the vaccines widely distributed and administered—only then can we truly move past the pandemic,” he said.
A Long-Overdue Infrastructure Package
“Our lawmakers should enact a fiscally and environmentally responsible infrastructure package that focuses on urgent needs like roads and bridges, modernizes our critical networks, and upgrades and expands technology like broadband,” Donohue said, noting that such a package is the “one way to raise productivity, create jobs, and drive up incomes in a hurry.”
“Even in a 50-50 Senate and a House divided by 5 votes, this can be done—and it might build some goodwill for bipartisan progress on other priorities,” he said.
Reskilling the American Workforce for the Jobs of Tomorrow
Donohue stated that a broad-based and speedy economic recovery hinges on reskilling workers and fostering inclusive growth.
“Our lawmakers should fund rapid training programs to connect the unemployed with jobs in new sectors,” he said, stressing the need for employer-led initiatives to lead the way to align industry needs and in-demand skills. “Some of the best-paying sectors—such as health care or financial and professional services—have more job openings than available workers. If we do this right and do it quickly, we will improve the living standard for millions of Americans and get our economy growing even faster.”
Addressing Racial Inequality and Reforming Immigration Policies
In addition to job reskilling, Donohue stressed that policymakers need to tackle race-based systemic inequality in education, entrepreneurship, and the criminal justice system – as outlined in the Chamber’s Equality of Opportunity Initiative – and immigration reforms to ensure the American workforce is highly skilled.
“Allowing the world’s most talented and industrious people to contribute to our economy drives growth, which in turn creates more jobs for Americans,” he said. “We fought vigorously and successfully against actions by the Trump administration to severely limit legal immigration, and we will work cooperatively with the Biden administration to reform our immigration system to meet the needs of our modern economy.”
Excessive Regulations & Anti-Competitive Taxes
“As a new government prepares to take the reins, we must prevent a return to excessive regulation or anti-competitive taxes,” Donohue warned, citing the positive effects of regulatory relief and pro-business policies on the economy before the pandemic. “Now is exactly the wrong time to further test the resiliency of businesses by hiking taxes or heaping on new regulations that do more harm than good.”
If such actions are taken, Donohue said, the Chamber would “use every tool at our disposal—including in the courts—to protect our recovery, our competitiveness, and our economic future from the regulatory overreach.”
America’s Long-Term Strength and Competitiveness Requires Global Engagement and Leadership
Finally, Donohue stressed the necessity for America to “reengage with the world through a bold trade agenda” to drive growth and prosperity. He said: “in recent years our resilience has been tested through trade wars and tariffs.”
Specifically, Donohue called for the end of the many tariffs enacted in recent years, paid for by American consumers, that have hurt farmers and manufacturers, and to reaffirm American leadership in multilateral organizations like the WTO and WHO.
“At the same time, we all know that China is the biggest global challenge our nation faces—we must work to stabilize the relationship through strength and cooperation,” Donohue added, noting that we must capitalize on the largest fast-growing market. “At the same time we also have to confront the unfair trade and industrial policies that China uses against U.S. companies. We must work with our allies to stand up to China, while also pursuing new negotiations with Beijing to protect our intellectual property.”