- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2012

In his annual speech on the state of American business, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue criticized President Obama for a weak election-year economic agenda and an “avalanche” of new regulations.

“An administration spokesman recently said that there is just one item on the president’s ‘must pass’ legislative program for the year — a further extension of the Social Security payroll-tax holiday,” Mr. Donohue said. “With all the challenges facing our economy and our country, it’s inconceivable to me that the president would agree with that — and I trust that he doesn’t. 2012 must not be wasted simply because it’s an election year.”

A White House spokesman two weeks ago said extending the payroll-tax holiday and unemployment insurance through this year was the only “must-do” piece of legislation remaining on Mr. Obama’s economic agenda. Just before Christmas, the administration and congressional Republicans agreed to extend the tax relief through February.

Mr. Donohue said the Democrat-controlled Senate should take up some of the 30 bills passed by the Republican-led House to create jobs.

“So far, these bills have gone nowhere in the Senate,” Mr. Donohue said. “Surely, one or two or three of these must have some good ideas that would attract the attention of the majority of the Senate.”

Since last September, Mr. Obama has been urging Congress to approve his $447 billion jobs package, which includes an extension of unemployment benefits, new spending for construction projects and money for hiring more teachers. Republican lawmakers oppose much of the president’s plan as too costly, and instead have offered proposals such as cutting government regulation and promoting domestic energy production. The Chamber is pushing for a growth plan that features increased drilling for oil and natural gas, expanding trade and cutting federal regulations.

Speaking to reporters after his speech, Mr. Donohue said the president’s jobs plan is too expensive.

“A jobs plan that would add another half a trillion dollars to the deficit and not have some of the really important points that we discussed today would not be the best way forward,” he said.

The chamber chief said business in America is improving “weakly, slowly and insufficiently to put our nation back to work.” He blamed a “regulatory avalanche” confronting business owners, noting that the Labor Department has 100 pending new regulations and the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law requires businesses to navigate 447 rules.

“The health care law established 159 new agencies, panels, commissions, and regulatory bodies,” Mr. Donohue said. “EPA has some 200 regulations in the works. And the business community must contend with a National Labor Relations Board that is clearly tilted toward the unions. This adds up to a big drag on our economy.”

Mr. Obama has said his administration is working to cut unnecessary regulations, but added that he won’t do so at the expense of clean air and clean water.

In his speech, Mr. Donohue also took a swipe of Mr. Obama’s “recess appointment” of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, predicting that the legally disputed appointment would lead to lawsuits over anything the bureau does, though he stopped short of saying the Chamber would make such a challenge itself.

“On this one, we’re working our way through it,” he said.