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The leader of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Thursday that the powerful business group will fight to reverse some policies being pushed in the states and by some Democratic candidates for president.

"We will lead the opposition to policies that undermine the job creators, that penalize the innovators and that target the wealth-creators," Chief Executive Officer Tom Donohue said Thursday in his annual "State of American Business" speech.

While he said his group, one of the highest-spending lobbying bodies in Washington and a major advocate for pro-business policies, will not engage "directly in presidential politics" and could fault both parties, he criticized progressive ideas such as Medicare for All, redistributive taxation, corporate breakups and policies that would give part-time workers greater benefits from their employers.

"The business community must not, and will not, stand on the sidelines," Donohue said. He didn't name any candidates, but some policies he cited, such as Medicare for All, are favored by Democratic presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Donohue, 81, who has led the U.S. Chamber for 22 years, criticized plans that he described as "the federalization of American business and hospitals," as well as "major redistributions of wealth to pay for programs that would put the government in charge of many more aspects of our life." He said that anyone -- Republican or Democrat -- seeking to break up big companies should focus on increasing competition rather than adding "more government intervention."

Northwest Arkansas was one of four sites selected in the United States to host a watch party for the event, drawing a roomful of attendees to the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers.

Raymond Burns, president and chief executive officer of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, said it was an honor to participate, and while his office does not always agree with the U.S. Chamber on certain issues, they do have common ground in regards to transportation, workforce development and tariffs.

"Tariffs have cost us an expansion and a lot of problems with some of our industries, especially with steel cord," Burns said. Bekaert, a Belgium-based manufacturer that has laid-off workers in recent years, has plants in Rogers and Fort Smith.

But the new North America trade deal, expected to pass through the Senate soon, would add a layer of much needed predictability and stability.

"It's going to be a big relief to Northwest Arkansas and the rest of the state," Burns said.

Area chambers of commerce in Tennessee, Montana and New York also participated in the live-stream broadcast, as well as offices in London, Brussels, Mexico City and Toronto.

Donohue on Thursday repeatedly took aim at laws adopted in California. Donohue slammed a statute that could force technology companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. to classify workers as employees -- rather than contractors -- and thus guarantee employment protections including a minimum wage and overtime.

"The business model that has revolutionized an entire section of the economy will be seriously challenged and could screech to a halt," Donohue said. "The same is true for the innovations that we are seeing from home-repair tasks to the grocery-delivery business."

The labor law dictates that workers can generally only be considered contractors if they perform work outside the usual scope of a company's business. He said the chamber will be engaging in a "hell of a fight" over the California measure.

"The chamber will bring the full weight of our resources and federation of state and local chambers to reform or defeat these proposals," he said.

After the speech, the chamber's chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, told reporters the chamber and its affiliates would use experts on policy, research and communications, as well as lobbyists, in the fight.

Donohue said the challenges to business come from a range of institutions, from municipalities to the presidential race. States in particular would be a focus of the chamber's work.

Yet he urged Congress to end legislative gridlock and take on issues such as the worker-classification law, as well as privacy, where more-liberal states have already adopted laws opposed by business.

"Washington's inability to make progress on data privacy is resulting in a patchwork of state rules and regulations that will stifle the free flow of goods and services across state borders," Donohue said. "Can you imagine running a company when you have 50 different state sets of standards to comply with?"

Information for this article was contributed by Ben Brody of Bloomberg News and Nathan Owens of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Business on 01/10/2020

Print Headline: Chamber rips policies as anti-business

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