The U.S. Chamber of Commerce needs to stand behind its talk. The nation’s biggest business lobbyist on Wednesday called for energy exports, more trade, less regulation, simpler taxes and reforms to federal retirement and medical programs. These are sensible goals, but some – like making health care work better – require businesses to contribute as well as spout off.
The much freer export of now plentiful U.S. oil and increased trade in general are sensible objectives. And the chamber’s perennial complaints, for instance about overregulation and the complexity of the tax code, are credible up to a point. But a few of its calls will be tougher for politicians to swallow, like cutting future deficits by reforming taxpayer-provided retirement benefits. Reducing so-called entitlements is crucial to righting America’s finances. But businesses aren’t making the government’s job any simpler.
Top executives have generally been cushioning retirement for themselves and, to some extent, shareholders while letting their employees’ wages grow only slowly. From 1979 through 2007, the top 1 per cent of earners saw their real income grow by 275 per cent while the middle 60 per cent of incomes grew by less than 40 per cent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. With only limited earnings growth, workers won’t be able to save much more for their retirement. Companies need to help pick up the slack if they want the government to cut what it pays out.
The chamber’s position on President Barack Obama’s health-care law seems inconsistent too. The group wants to scrap the requirement for larger companies to provide health insurance to employees while also urging the government to spend less on medical care – positions that are hard to reconcile, especially given the employer-dominated health insurance market in the United States.
Calls for more infrastructure spending and better education are uncontroversial, but with government budgets stretched, businesses may need to put up some of the investment if they’re going to get their way. Just as in the U.S. Congress, complaints and demands delivered with little sign of a willingness to compromise are unlikely to get very far.