By Craig Sandler, Public Citizen
Never at a loss for spinning its corporate-friendly agenda as somehow benefiting working Americans, yesterday’s “2019 State of American Business Address” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s CEO, Thomas J. Donohue, was a textbook example of using syrupy public relations-friendly language to mask the Chamber’s true intent. The speech laid out the Chamber’s policy priorities for 2019 and for the newly sworn-in 116th Congress in characteristically rosy terms.
A closer look at what was officially called the “#AmericanDreams” speech, though, paints a starkly different picture from how it sounded on its surface. The vision Donohue laid out—of maintaining private, for-profit healthcare; of an unregulated pharmaceutical industry free to price gouge consumers; of unrestrained use of fossil fuels that would pollute our environment and further contribute to climate change; of policies preventing consumers and workers from suing corporations that have harmed or discriminated against them; and of a total lack of transparency in corporate political spending—would be more like an American Nightmare for the average citizen.
When Donohue claims that the state of the economy is extremely strong, what he really means is that it’s great if you’re a CEO or wealthy stockholder raking in record corporate profits and increased share values due to record stock buybacks. However, the average American has been facing years of wage stagnation, job insecurity, underemployment, and a dangerous lack of worker protections. And, when he says “prudent regulation,” he means fewer safeguards for workers, consumers, and the public at large.
The Chamber’s well-funded and heavily-staffed lobby machine can be very savvy. So, when it says it will “take bipartisanship into account” we know that means that with a Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives in the 116th Congress, the Chamber cannot simply rely on congressional Republicans to pass its corporate agenda alone, as it’s done for years. And though the Chamber has added bipartisanship as a criterion in its 2019 legislative scorecard (at 10% of total score, making it roughly the weighted equivalent of the “participation” grade in an average college class), these feints toward moderation are merely PR. Its policy advocacy is no less extreme in its tilt toward corporations and the extremely wealthy folks who make up its donor base and against the average consumer, worker or family.
To wit: Donohue promises to “use all of our resources to combat” a single-payer healthcare system. Although such a system would overwhelmingly benefit the average American and is tremendously popular with the public, it would endanger the Chamber’s corporate buddies in the health industry, so the Chamber is now threatening to oppose it with all of its considerable lobbying might. Elsewhere in the speech, Donohue claims that protests of natural gas pipelines and the push to keep fossil fuels in the ground are causing undue strain on American traditional energy producers. In reality, this decline is because those entities are themselves fossils, tied to a business model that is no longer profitable (let alone prudent given the clear evidence of climate change). This willfully misleading stance proves the Chamber is just as beholden to the fossil fuel industry as ever.
Later in the speech, Donohue claims that Americans’ right to file civil and class action suits “undermines justice” when really it protects vulnerable populations from powerful wealthy interests. And, when the Chamber says that the U.S. should restrict shareholder rights to “reform” publicly-owned corporations’ policies on matters such as disclosure of political spending, it really means it wants average investors to have less of a say and intends to do all it can to ensure secret money continues to be dumped into political campaigns.
In all of these cases, the Chamber’s policy goal amounts to letting corporations do whatever they want with zero accountability and zero protection for the public interest. The Chamber may be attempting to put on a fresh new face to deal with a new Congress, but rest assured, its agenda is as pro-corporate and anti-Main Street as ever. Perhaps instead of promising to stand for “every child, every family, every worker, and every entrepreneur,” a more honest promise would be that the Chamber stands for “every corporation, every billionaire, every Big Bank, and every CEO.”