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Chamber of Commerce Unveils Policy Priorities to Repair U.S. Economy

Jan 22, 2013

Like most Americans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the state of the U.S. economy on its mind. The organization recently issued its 2013 "American Jobs and Growth Agenda," a plan to stimulate the economy and lower unemployment through a series of key policy measures - some of which are likely to stir debate.

"[The] over-riding objective of this ambitious plan is to generate stronger economic growth in order to create jobs, lift incomes, and expand opportunity for all Americans," Thomas J. Donohue , president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said. "We are fully aware that economic growth alone cannot solve all of our problems. But without growth, we will not be able to solve any of them."

While few people would argue with that statement, there is room for debate in the Chamber's policy recommendations, which are highlighted in five key points:

Produce more American energy. The Chamber believes there is more the nation can do to achieve energy independence, such as boosting domestic production of fossil fuels and allowing construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. While this view is unsurprising, the Chamber also says that alternative energy should be on the table.

"We should waste no time in pursuing research to develop alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal," Donohue noted, adding that the government should not select "winners" through federal funds investment.

"The federal government shouldn't pick the winners and losers or subject energy projects to endless and duplicative reviews," Donohue explained, though he did not specify whether this was a call to eliminate government incentives and investment for clean energy or the billions of dollars oil and gas companies receive from the U.S. government each year.

Expand American trade. The U.S. should eliminate trade barriers, the Chamber says, noting that "95 percent of [U.S. businesses'] potential customers live outside of the United States and we need to go sell them something." Specifically, the group believes that the U.S. must conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and fight for a trade agreement with the European Union.

Modernize the regulatory system. The Chamber believes the government needs to stem the flood of business regulations focused on trade laws, healthcare, and the environment.

"On the environmental front, major EPA rules imposed over the last decade cost more than $23 billion and its new ozone regulation could cost up to $90 billion," Donohue said. "If EPA moves forward with rules on greenhouse gas could ensnare roughly 6 million facilities in burdensome permitting requirements."

Reform immigration and visa policies.  Donohue noted that the U.S. "needs immigrants," even given the nation's high unemployment rate.

"Given our changing demographics, we need more workers to sustain our economy, support our retired population and to stay competitive," he said.

Address the fiscal crisis. The Chamber says its goal is to "slow the growth of spending, reform entitlements, and overhaul the tax code," and it blames the crisis on runaway deficit spending, changing demographics, and unsustainable entitlements.

"We must address the fundamental reality that, due to our aging society and increased life expectancy, the entitlement programs...must be revised," Donohue explained. "We're not talking about cuts in absolute terms - we're simply talking about slowing the rate of increase. This can be achieved with reasonable adjustments phased in over a number of years."

While this may be true, it's also important to remember that more Americans are relying on Social Security as a sole source of income, and fewer younger Americans are saving due to escalating cost of living coupled with stagnant wages.

The Washington Post reports that a record number of Americans - one in four - have tapped into their retirement savings to pay bills. Cuts to future Social Security and Medicare could spell disaster for Americans who retire or are laid off late in their careers.

"We're going from bad to worse," Diane Oakley, of the National Institute on Retirement Security, told the Post. "Already, fewer private-sector workers have access to stable pension plans. And the savings in individual retirement savings accounts like 401(k) plans - which already are severely underfunded - continue to leak out at a high rate."

While not everyone agrees with the Chamber of Commerce's details and proposals, the group makes some valid points : the economic uncertainty caused by partisan Congressional bickering over the budget and the debt ceiling, plus a series of short-term fixes instead of long-term solutions, harms the economy.

Such stop-gap measures scare away investors, cause businesses to hold back from hiring, and take up too much of Washington's time. Most Americans would also agree that energy independence is a good goal: relying on foreign nations for a majority of the country's energy creates geopolitical problems, high costs, and economic instability.