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Chamber to unveil pro-business lobbying effort

The group plans to announce an agenda that includes attacking regulations covering labor, energy, healthcare and financial services, which it says it hampering the economic recovery.

November 15, 2010|By Tom Hamburger and Noam N. Levey, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — After spending a record amount this election season to change the balance of power in Washington, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this week plans to announce a pro-business agenda that will include attacking federal regulations in four areas: labor, energy, healthcare and financial services.

The business organization's leaders will announce their targets Wednesday, arguing that excessive government regulation is hampering economic recovery.

"American businesses are sinking under its weight," chamber President Thomas J. Donohue said Monday.

"Businesses have long recognized the need for sensible regulations," he said, but the regulatory system imposes a burden on business that is "pervasive, insidious and needs to be exposed."

The effort to reduce government rules and oversight is part of the chamber's multipronged lobbying effort, which also will include an advertising campaign on government regulation and a blueprint for pressing its case with every member of Congress.

The advertising campaign, called "This Way to Jobs," will feature a curved arrow that twists and bends above a list of new rules that are expected to follow passage of the financial services reform bill approved by Congress this year.

The ad also refers to the healthcare bill that sets up what the chamber said are a multitude of new agencies, panels and commissions "with the power to regulate." In addition, the ad attacks some new environmental proposals.

Unions, liberal advocacy groups and many congressional Democrats are expected to defend the new healthcare law and the new financial oversight system, created in the wake of the worst recession in more than half a century. They also are expected to defend efforts to expand worker safety rules.

"The chamber's new campaign is disappointing and may threaten the health and safety of hardworking Americans if successful," said Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The chamber's focus on healthcare and financial services is likely to be particularly intense. It led opposition to legislation on both areas, which passed when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate.

Action on the new laws now move to the executive branch for rulemaking and implementation. And the chamber is expected to apply pressure on that process.

In particular, the chamber has pushed for looser interpretation of rules requiring health insurance companies to spend a specified minimum percentage of the premiums they collect from customers on coverage of medical claims starting next year.

It roundly attacked the healthcare initiative during a campaign in which many Republicans called for its repeal. It doesn't appear the chamber will go that far.

Speaking at a meeting of the National Business Coalition on Health, chamber Senior Vice President Randy Johnson acknowledged Monday that repealing the law or eliminating major provisions — such as a new requirement that large employers provide health benefits — would be difficult to achieve.

In the realm of financial services, Tom Quaadman, another chamber executive, said his group also was looking for some relief from new requirements governing derivatives trading by companies not involved in financial services.

He said the chamber also sought some adjustment of the Volcker Rule, a reform named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker that would bar banks that receive federal support from engaging in speculative activity unrelated to basic bank services.

As part of the chamber's effort, each member of Congress will receive a "This Way To Jobs" board game, which shows business executives thwarted by regulations as they try to expand the economy.

An accompanying letter from R. Bruce Josten, the chamber's chief lobbyist, told members that over-regulation played a role in the economic downturn.

"Job creators cannot be sure what the rules of the road will be a week, month or even a year from now, thus they cannot plan for or invest in the future," he wrote.

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

noam.levey@latimes.com

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