What, according to business, is the greatest impediment to economic and jobs recovery? As framed by Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the answer is regulation.
“We think this onslaught of new mandates and restrictions is the biggest opposition to creating jobs,” Donohue told a crowd of about 250 at a meeting in Minneapolis Tuesday afternoon of the Economic Club of Minnesota, a non-partisan group that tilts center-right.
Donohue, not one to overlook a good metaphor, described today’s regulatory climate in terms of a killer storm. “We live in the middle of regulatory tsunami and we better do something about it or it’s just going to choke us to death,” he said.
While Donohue didn’t endorse a Reagan-era approach to regulation extinction (“we need traffic regulation, we need air traffic regulation, we need food safety regulation”), he rejected the argument that regulatory reform could be pushed too far, with costly and undesirable consequences.
Donohue’s outrage is directed at a trio he views as impediments to job recovery. Topping the list is health care reform. Overturning it is target number one for the U.S. Chamber. Donohue refers to it as the “Doc Deal” that requires and creates 185 new agencies, commissions, panels and other bodies. He promises that the Chamber will offer “six or seven ideas that will fix it.”
As for the financial reforms passed last year: “We have to go out and embarrass people about this bill,” which he says still does not address the cause of the housing collapse. He terms the new consumer protection agency “the most expensive and intrusive and strangling organization you ever saw in this business anywhere. I think it’s time to make a major change.”
Then there are the public employee unions, which he criticizes for “extraordinary” pensions and pay and which he sees as a major obstacle to international trade reform, one the U.S. Chamber’s top priorities.
“Where the hell do public employee unions get [off] spending tens of millions of dollars to try and kill trade deals?” he asked. Enact trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Columbia and get rid of European Union and U.S. tariffs on manufactured goods, and “you’ll hear heads snapping all around the world.”
“Yes, we are against out-sourced jobs to China,” said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME, a Minnesota public employees union, when asked about Donohue’s comments. “Every time government cuts a public employee job, Main Street loses a customer.”
But Donohue’s comments got no pushback from the Economic Club crowd.
David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, says the agenda is “right in line” with the Chamber’s.
Teresa Bohnen, president of the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, concurred: “I think he reflected a lot of what we’re hearing at chambers of commerce across Minnesota, particularly the regulation pieces.”
Seide, defending the role of public employees in an economic recovery, calls the U.S. Chamber agenda “a kill your customer approach.”
Donohue is unshakeable that it’s the other way around. “Overregulation can do the ultimate damage,” he told reporters after the speech, “which is to wreak so much havoc to the economy that all of the good things you want to do are overridden by people being out of jobs, out of their houses, and in desperate circumstances.”