With the backdrop of a partial government shutdown stretching into day 21, it's unsurprising that U.S. businesses would put getting federal workers back on the job at the top of their wish list for 2019.
In his annual "State of American Business" address Thursday Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business advocacy group in Washington, D.C., ticked off a succinct but pointed plan for helping U.S. businesses thrive in the new year. The address, timed to coincide with the President's annual State of the Union address on January 29, is meant to serve as something of a wish list for U.S. businesses large and small. Among other things, this year, Donohue pointed to improving trade ties with foreign allies, providing clarity on U.S. immigration laws, and getting the U.S. government back into the business of governing. (The President and Congress are at an impasse over $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall with Mexico.)
"Governing by crisis is no way to do the nation's business," said Donohue. "Because dysfunction saps confidence, threatens growth, and consequently poses a threat to opportunity in this country."
Reopening the government, however, is just one key policy priority businesses will be watching in 2019. Here are four others, according to Donohue:
Small businesses make up 49 out of every 50 U.S. companies that sell products overseas, many of which would go out of business without trade, said Donohue. He called on the administration to lift the tariffs imposed in 2018 on steel, aluminum, and Chinese goods.
"Tariffs are taxes paid for by American families and American businesses--not by foreigners," he said, proposing that the administration continues to work with allies on trade deals instead of undermining its own economy. As way of example, he heralded the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, as a "good deal" that "must be approved" by Congress.
Donohue also noted that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the Trump administration's efforts to resolve its trade issues with China, but stressed that it opposes the ongoing trade war waged through swelling tariffs. "You can keep adding tariffs but we keep paying for them," Donahue added later at a press conference. "It would be great if when we added tariffs they paid for them--it would give us a lot more leverage."
As the unemployment rate hovers around a record-low 3.9 percent, many jobs remain vacant across the country. U.S. companies are unable to fill them because "they can't find the workers they need, when and where they need them," Donohue said.
"Our nation must continue to attract and welcome industrious and innovative people from all over the world, and finally fix our broken immigration system," he added. Donohue urged the President and Congress to work together to reach a deal that both secures the border and gives protection and legal status to immigrants under the Temporary Protected Status program, which grants protection from deportation to nationals of designated countries, as well as to Dreamers--a name used to describe undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
3. Data Privacy
After last year's high-profile hacks and data privacy scandals, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing for a new federal data privacy law to protect consumer privacy with enough wiggle room to promote tech innovation. Currently, states have implemented a patchwork of different laws governing privacy issues, with California adopting the most stringent privacy laws currently on the books in the U.S. in June of last year. Donohue says the business group is leading a multi-industry effort to have "one good rule, not 50 separate ones."
Donohue urged the government to pass a "significant" infrastructure package in 2019, suggesting that rebuilding the nation's outdated highways, bridges, ports, and waterways would also bring more jobs to the country. He conceded, however, that the challenge lies in finding a way to pay for it sustainably.
Raising federal fuel taxes could be a "big part of the solution," Donohue suggested, an idea the U.S. Chamber of Commerce previously floated in 2018. He added that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is offering up to $25,000 in cash prizes to whoever comes up with the "best, most viable idea" for a long-term funding source for infrastructure projects.
An infrastructure renaissance, however, would be hard to achieve in the U.S. under present conditions, said Donohue at a later press conference, alluding once again to tough labor conditions. "If we had all the money, and had all the deals right now, and we had fixed the permitting--we couldn't do it," he said. "Because we don't have the workers."