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Chamber of Commerce Urges Bush to Delay Social Security, Tax Plans

As speculation continues regarding President Bush’s proposals to overhaul Social Security and the tax code, the nation’s largest business lobby is encouraging the White House and Members of Congress to put off such major changes in favor of less controversial measures.

“We’d like them to address the low-hanging fruit that’s already keyed up,” Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said today in a briefing on the organization’s legislative priorities for the 109th Congress.

Bush has signaled his intention to use political capital he earned in reclaiming the White House to push an ambitious domestic agenda, one that includes retooling the federal retirement program by adding private accounts as well as streamlining the tax code.

While Donohue said the Chamber would work with the administration on those efforts, he suggested Bush could better preserve his election momentum by first achieving a series of smaller-bore legislative wins.

He pointed to class-action reform, tort reform and an energy bill, among others, as good candidates to be tackled first.

“A mandate lasts about 15 minutes in this town,” Donohue said, adding the administration would have a “lot better chance of success” with items that neared passage in the 108th Congress “before turning to issues that will take more time, more debate and be more divisive.”

The Chamber is a member of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, a business coalition advocating the partial privatization of Social Security. That group has already begun meeting with the White House and Members, but Bruce Josten, a lobbyist for the Chamber, said until Bush outlines his plan for Social Security, there is not much his organization can do.

Some reports have stated the president will release a plan as early as next month, but Josten speculated it could come much later in the year and said debate over the issue would postpone consideration of tax reform until 2006.

“I don’t think Congress has the capacity to juggle them,” he said. The AARP already has taken a lead role in opposing the effort to add personal accounts to Social Security. The nation’s largest seniors’ lobby this week launched a $5 million national advertising campaign arguing the plan would be too risky.

When the time finally comes for the Chamber to join the fray over Social Security, Donohue said it likely would not respond in kind.

“I’m not enthralled about the effect of TV and advertising to get this done,” he said. “The people who measure the intensity of the effort by watching the amount of money the business community spends on advertising are watching the wrong cow in the wrong pasture.”

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