Big business lobby to push trade, data, immigration in 2020

Despite impeachment, the chamber believes Congress and the Trump administration still may seek compromise on major matters

US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue speaks at US Chamber of Commerce in Washington. The top spender on federal lobbying plans to push for a full agenda this year that includes free trade, data privacy and immigration overhaul. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Noting the “extraordinary time” of political turmoil and impeachment running alongside the 2020 campaigns, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue nevertheless said his group, the top spender on federal lobbying, would push for a full agenda this year that includes free trade, data privacy and immigration overhaul.

Even with the expected legislative stalemate of a presidential election year, he said the chamber believed Congress and the Trump administration still may seek compromise on major matters, including funding for infrastructure projects.

“What can actually get done in a year like 2020? The short answer is a lot,” Donohue said Thursday during the group’s annual presentation about its agenda.

[In major shift, U.S. Chamber to rate lawmakers on bipartisanship]

On the political side, though the chamber spends heavily on congressional races and routinely makes endorsements in those contests, Donohue offered little detail about how much it would invest in 2020 races and how much the typically GOP-leaning organization would send to Democrats.Donohue reiterated the chamber’s change, announced last year to weigh bipartisan deal-making more heavily when evaluating lawmakers’ votes and when deciding whom to support.

“We don’t tell anybody what we spend on politics,” Donohue said in response to a CQ Roll Call question about how much the group planned to invest in politics in 2020 and what percentage would go to Democrats. He added that the group would be a major player in the 2020 races and that it “will spend money on Democrats.” The “bottom line,” he said, “stay tuned.”

In the 2018 election cycle, the chamber spent nearly $11 million in electioneering messages, according to a tabulation by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Donohue said the big business group would not take a position in the 2020 presidential races but would criticize policy proposals, such as Medicare for all, that it opposes.

“We will praise or criticize proposals by presidential candidates from both parties,” he said. “We will lead the opposition to the policies that undermine the job creators, that penalize the innovators, and that target the wealth creators and investors that allow Americans to provide for their families and plan for their futures.”

The chamber has made no secret of its dislike of Trump administration tariffs, with Donohue saying that American companies and consumers pay the prices of those. But the group supports the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Donohue also said the chamber would continue to press for immigration overhaul measures, despite the controversy surrounding them, including opposition from the administration. He said American companies are facing a “crisis” of worker shortages.

“We’ve identified 10 states, where every individual who wants to work could find a job tomorrow — and still, more than a quarter of the jobs would remain unfilled,” Donohue said in his speech. “This is just one reason we will be pushing hard for real immigration reform, so businesses can find the workers they need, when and where they need them.”

Data privacy will also be a priority issue for the chamber in 2020, Donohue said, noting that federal inaction on the matter has led to a “patchwork” of state rules and regulations, including a new law in California that took effect this month.

“Can you imagine effectively running a company when you have 50 different sets of standards to comply with? This would create conflict for businesses, confusion for consumers, and increase costs for everyone,” he said.

The chamber, and its affiliates including the Institute for Legal Reform, disclosed spending nearly $60 million on federal lobbying in the first nine months of 2019, [Related: Facebook posts biggest quarterly lobby tab on eve of testimony] according to lobbying disclosures filed with Congress.

The group will also lobby state governments into 2020, including fighting proposals to limit how companies can categorize workers as independent contractors, a reaction to the “gig” economy and workers’ lack of employee benefits in that sector. Donohue said the chamber was fighting against state regulations of the gig economy because they would “suppress business opportunities.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.