- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2012

The head of the nation’s largest business lobby on Monday said the Obama administration’s heavy regulatory hand was “making it difficult” for the business community.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue, at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, said the administration’s labor, environmental and financial regulations were holding back hiring and investment, but praised last week’s bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

“I don’t think government as a concept or as an institution is an impediment to economic growth in the private sector,” Mr. Donohue said. “But I think overburdening government that is riding regulations at an unbelievable clip for a long, long time has created a situation where American companies are sitting on their cash.”

Mr. Donohue, who has criticized the administration’s business agenda in the past, said the Dodd-Frank Act, overhauling the nation’s financial regulatory landscape, “was written in anger.”

He cautioned against overreacting to the revelation of a $2 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase, which some have pointed to as proof tougher regulations are still needed.

“Let’s see when the numbers come out. I think the bank will make a ton of money this quarter,” he said. “The amount they have to put out might be less than you think.”

Mr. Donohue said the recent actions of the National Labor Relations Board, now dominated by Obama appointees, shows the administration’s favoritism to its labor union allies. He said his organization does retain a line of communication to the Democratic president.

“We have whatever access we need,” Mr. Donohue explained. “We don’t spend a lot of time over there getting tea, but whatever we need to get done, we get done.”

Mr. Donohue also chimed in on the European austerity measures, saying continental leaders needed to find the correct balance between needed structural reforms and short-term support to boost growth in ailing national economies.

“Everybody has come to the conclusion that they’ve got to get some kind of combination,” he said.

In the U.S., the government has faced its own spending problems. But Mr. Donohue pointed to a key difference.

“The Europeans think government spending leads to growth and jobs,” he said. “The U.S. is aware that government spending can only lead to jobs and growth for so long.”

Mr. Donohue praised the congressional votes last week to keep the Ex-Im Bank operating, saying it was needed to support U.S. exporters. He expressed disappointment with fiscally conservative Republicans who led to fight to block the reauthorization.

“There’s no question there were a lot of [Republicans who] gave us something to think about,” he said.

R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the chamber, noted that other countries have similar government funds subsidizing exports. He said Canada’s economy is one-tenth the size of the U.S. economy, but Ottawa offers three times the funding to its businesses.

“Why is anything with money attached to it suddenly under the microscope?” he asked. “It makes us upset that some of [the Republicans] went against us,” he added.

Mr. Donohue said the anti-spending tea party activists on the right and liberals skeptical of supporting business make compromise more difficult on Capitol Hill.

“I worry about the Congress that we have a whole lot more people that are significantly on the right and significantly on the left,” he said. “It’s really hard to make a deal if there’s no bridge to get there.”

Mr. Donohue, however, cautioned that the tea party movement has been given a rigid reputation that is a bit too harsh.

“I respect the tea partyers,” he said. “They’re not crazies.”