U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue on Thursday promised that the Chamber will mount "the most aggressive grassroots mobilization and voter education program in our history" ahead of this year's elections and vowed to spend more money than ever to support free market policies and candidates.
"We passionately believe that it's time to stop apologizing for the one thing in our society that really works - American free enterprise," Donohue said in a speech Thursday.
In 2010, the Chamber spent about $50 million to influence about 10 Senate and 40 House races. The Chamber, which largely supports Republican candidates, stays out of presidential politics.
In his annual State of American Business address, Donohue laid out a 2012 agenda that includes lobbying for greater domestic energy development and approving the Keystone XL pipeline; expanding trade and pursuing new free trade agreements; reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration and highway transportation bills; reforming immigration and visa programs for business tourists and professionals with advanced degrees; finding solutions to online piracy; and reducing the federal deficit.
"2012 must not be a wasted year simply because it is an election year," Donohue said. "There's no justifiable reason why it should be."
Donohue criticized a recent statement made by an Obama administration spokesman that there is only one item on its must-pass legislation list - extending payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance. He said the administration, as well as Congress, needs to strive for solutions to advance the struggling economy.
"With all the challenges facing our economy and our country, it's inconceivable that the president would agree with [that statement] -- and I trust that he doesn't," Donohue said.
Other highlights from the speech:
The government needs to lower corporate tax rates to attract investors to the United States and to keep the country competitive.
The Chamber supports sensible regulations, but Donohue said "the regulatory avalanche confronting our job creators is unprecedented." He said the government needs to reduce the number of current and proposed regulations, freeing the business community to take the risks that spur growth.
At a press conference after the speech, Bruce Josten, the Chamber's executive vice president for government affairs, reiterated Donohue's criticism of the administration and certain members of Congress for giving up on solutions in order to focus on their campaigns. "In some respect, politicking is going to take precedence over policy-making," Josten said. "We hope to change that."
Donohue also said that he wished White House chief of staff Bill Daley, who was seen as more business-friendly than his predecessor but who is leaving at the end of this month, was staying. Donohue called Jack Lew, Daley's successor, "a very experienced person" who "certainly knows the numbers."