U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue pledged to work with President Barack Obama in a push for trade deals and to create jobs, after two years during which the men often were at odds.
Donohue, who squared off against Obama over measures on climate change, health care and financial regulation, said the Chamber, the largest business lobbying group, is ready to cooperate after voters on Nov. 2 ousted Democrats from control of the House of Representatives.
“Since the elections, we’ve been asked whether the Chamber will be able to work with the administration and those in Congress who criticized us,” Donohue said today in a speech to his board in Washington. “The answer is: Of course we can. It’s already happening.”
The Washington-based Chamber spent more than $30 million on outside advertising before this month’s election, supporting mostly Republican candidates. Democrats attacked that advertising, saying it was unfair for the Chamber to hide its roster of corporate donors.
Donohue said he wants to work with Obama and lawmakers in both parties to pass pending trade agreements, cut the long-term government debt and preserve the independence of the U.S. Federal Reserve. He also broke with Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who say their top priority is defeating Obama in 2012.
“It’s not our intention to weaken the president in any way,” Donohue told reporters after his speech. “We are ready to walk across this park and work with the administration on any issue.”
Walk Across Park
The Chamber’s headquarters building faces Washington’s Lafayette Park, across from the White House. Already today, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk crossed the park to speak with the Chamber’s board in closed-door meetings.
Since the election, which gave Republicans control of the House and added to their seats in the Senate, the tone on both sides has changed. Obama addressed an affiliate of the Chamber in Mumbai this month, and helped companies such as Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. sign deals in India. Donohue traveled to Seoul to help Obama seal a deal that would let the long-stalled free-trade agreement with South Korea be sent to Congress for approval. The sides were unable to reach agreement.
“There are issues that we both have in common that we both want to see progress on” such as trade and jobs, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said when asked about Donohue’s comments. “We’re pleased and happy to work with him.”
The Chamber still has a list of administration policies that it has targeted.
U.S. companies are facing a “tsunami” of regulations that are becoming a tax on citizens, Donohue said today in reiterating a theme he’s used previously to criticize the Obama administration.
“We cannot allow this nation to move from a government of the people to a government of the regulators,” Donohue said. “We’re going to be engaged in this fight for years to come.”
While Obama failed to complete the Korean trade deal while in Seoul, Donohue says he is optimistic an accord can be worked out.
“We didn’t quite get it done, but I am encouraged that the agreement will be completed soon,” Donohue said.