The GOP debates have had a similar ring to them, with candidates blaming high unemployment on heavy regulation and expensive policies from Washington. After co-moderating the CNBC debate, I turned to Tom Donohue, who as head of the Chamber of Commerce, the pre-eminent pro-business lobbying organization in the U.S., is seen as the voice of Corporate America. I asked him what’s holding back business from hiring. As an example of a major potential for job creation, he pointed to the Keystone XL pipeline, which last week said it may be able to win approval in six to nine months as its parent, TransCanada, negotiates with Nebraska and U.S. officials about a new route. Our conversation below is edited for clarity and length.
Q: The chamber sent an open letter to President Obama with ideas on job creation. What do you propose?
A: We can create a significant number of jobs without adding a massive amount of money to an ever-growing deficit. The idea with the greatest potential is to do a number of things in energy. There are very few countries that have as much gas, oil and coal, as well as some green energy, as we do. And we don’t need to spend any money. Approve the XL Pipeline; it’ll create 250,000 jobs. Let’s go back into the (Gulf of Mexico). We’ve learned something from the leak. But we’re going to lose all those rigs if we don’t get going again. Let’s dig for more oil and gas from North Dakota across the plateau of our country, in Alaska or offshore. We can put people to work, take them off public assistance, pay royalties to the federal government and bring companies back on shore.
There are things we can do without new legislation, without anything other than approval by the administration. Infrastructure and tourism can also create jobs. Bring more tourists to the U.S., which would put a million more people to work. All you need to do is help them get a visa and welcome them when they get here.
Q: After the Gulf oil spill, how do you quiet the critics who say environment and wildlife should take priority?
A: If we want to give environment and wildlife the priority over jobs for our fellow citizens and over a modern competitive society, we wouldn’t be making it very long, because the primary issue Americans are concerned about is “a job for my family.” We could do things in a thoughtful and environmentally friendly way and still establish energy security.
Q: The regulatory environment also keeps coming up. What rule changes would spark job creation?
A: We have to face the reality that we’ve been exploding the (size of) regulatory burden, particularly through health care, Dodd-Frank, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Labor Department. The EPA regulations have been aggressive. The regulations that are coming from new health care bills leave American companies cautious. At first, it wasn’t going to cost any more. Now, it’s going to cost a half a trillion dollars. The Labor Department is rewriting how we employ, how we pay and how we benefit. Dodd-Frank legislation requires 250 new regulations. It suggests 188 more regulations. It has been more than two years, and we’ve done only 12% of the regulations. And not the hard ones.
Q: Many countries are growing strongly, such as China and Brazil at 8%, and U.S. companies are growing there. How can we get them to bring some of the money made there back home?
A: We need to face reality that we’re the only major country in the world that double taxes our companies. That’s just plain stupid. No other country leaves their money overseas. We’re always going to leave some there because we do business over there.
Q: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said this would leave an enormous amount of money on the table.
A: That’s because this administration believes that we should continue to drive up taxes on companies and individuals instead of controlling some of our expenditures. If you pay a whole lot more taxes this year and you don’t change the expenditures, then next year, you have to pay a whole lot more taxes again. Whenever you take the 1% of the people that are paying 40%-plus of the taxes and decide to drive up their taxes, the country takes in less money.
Q: The candidates have come up with tax-reform plans. How will this lead to jobs?
A: Part of the issue is 52% of the country pays no tax.
Q: How do you get that number?
A: If you take away Social Security, which is not an income tax, it’s a retirement tax, and look at how the law has changed to exclude people under certain revenues, it is now 52%. Everybody over the poverty line should pay some income tax, because if they don’t, and the number of people that pay taxes goes down, then what do they care what happens if income taxes go up? We are all fellow citizens, but we have a progressive income tax, and the people that make the most money pay the most taxes. I’m not arguing about that: 1% of the taxpayers pay 40% of the taxes.
Q: This is the crux of the fighting that’s going on, particularly at the Occupy Wall Street movement. They’re mad about the rising gap between the wealthy, which they refer to as that top 1%, and everyone else. Do you consider income inequality a problem that government should do something about?
A: Government’s been doing something about their view of income inequality for a long time. The people that make the highest income are paying most of the taxes. Some people in this administration want to redistribute income. Take it from one person because they pay a lot of income taxes, and give it to someone else. In a way, we’re doing that, and they’re not paying any taxes other than Social Security.
Q: How would you characterize the economy?
A: We’ve created 80,000 jobs in the last month, and in the last couple of reporting periods, the number went up. The unemployment rate went down from 9.1% to 9%, so we’re making a little progress. The economy is growing close to 2.5%, but until it gets to 3.5%, we’re not going to begin to create enough jobs. We’re getting just about enough to replace people that are retiring or going out of the workforce. But we have people coming into the workforce, coming out of school, out of training, and we’re not going to create enough jobs in this country to get 3.5% growth.
Bartiromo is anchor of CNBC’s Closing Bell and anchor and managing editor of the nationally syndicated Wall Street Journal Report with Maria Bartiromo. Follow her on Twitter @mariabartiromo. To see previous columns, go to bartiromo.usatoday.com.