U.S. Chamber: Entitlement Cuts Essential in Any Fiscal Cliff Deal with Taxes

Nov 29, 2012

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue speaking to reporters. Photograph: Ian Wagreich/© U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Copyright 2012 Bloomberg.
by Brian Wingfield

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce won’t support a long-term deal to rein in spending and increase revenue unless it contains provisions to curb spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the head of the business group says.

A deal without entitlement reform “would never work,” Thomas Donohue, the Chamber’s president and chief executive officer, said at a breakfast in Washington today before a meeting of the group’s board of directors.

Earlier this week, the White House finally opened its doors to the Commerce, an erstwhile critic of President Barack Obama’s administration, as discussions to avert the looming “fiscal cliff” get under way.

The nation’s largest business-lobbying group took the Nov.26 opportunity to make a pitch for a broader deal to rein in the federal budget deficit, with one stipulation: it must include measures to reform entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

“We told them there’s no line in the sand, but in no way bring us a deal or proposal that ups taxes or eliminates deductions and doesn’t deal with entitlements,” Donohue told reporters after breakfast today.

The chamber, which has spent $95.7 million on lobbying this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has devoted much of the past four years to criticism of the administration, on issues ranging from energy to health care.

With Obama in the White House through 2016, the business group is trying to find ways to work with the president.

Soon after the Nov. 6 election, the chamber started pushing its proposal for a “Big Deal” that would curb spending, increase revenue and promote domestic energy production. It also wants to avoid the spending cuts and expiring tax credits scheduled to take effect at the end of the year, while such a deal is put in place.

“You’d have to get it done by the end of next year,” Donohue said. “Nobody’s going to sit still and wait any longer.” The chamber also sees the present as an ideal moment to pursue trade agreements and immigration reform.

“What we’re doing here at the chamber is focusing on the urgent challenges facing our economy and our country right now,” Donohue said. “We’ll get back to the politics in a while.”

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is taking the White House’s negotiations to Capitol Hill this morning, meeting individually with the Democratic and Republican leaders of both the House and Senate.

The chamber’s insistence on a balanced deal is precisely what the White House and congressional leaders are seeking — “fair and balanced,” Obama called it yesterday: That goal of packaging tax increases with entitlement spending cuts.

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