U.S. Chamber’s Tom Donohue tells Atlanta Rotary how business is faring in D.C.

By Maria Saporta

There was lots of patting on the back at he Rotary Club of Atlanta’s luncheon Monday with Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as the keynote speaker.

Donohue was introduced by Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, who said Donohue was “making an incredible difference in Washington.”

Williams also told a story of when Donohue, president and CEO of the American Trucking Association, was being considered for the top chamber job in 1997.

He visited with Oz Nelson, then CE0 of Atlanta-based UPS (think brown trucks) , who told Donohue that he could be a catalyst in building the business organization.

Williams said that at the time, the annual budget of the U.S. Chamber was $50 million. It now has grown to $250 million.

The U.S. Chamber also has been building a much more visible political profile. In 2010, it raised $60 million to help elect members of Congress who were friendlier to business.

There was another Atlanta connection. The chairman of the U.S. Chamber during was Atlantan Tom Bell, former CEO of Cousins Properties and now executive chairman of SecurAmerica, who has just ended his term heading the organization.

Donohue, however, said Bell wasn’t going anywhere. “He’ll be chairman of the executive committee, and he’ll be around another six years,” Donohue said. “He’s a talented executive who I have known for 35 years.”

Donohue also praised Williams.

“There’s no better regional chamber in the country, and there’s not a better manager of a regional chamber,” Donohue said of Williams. “He is the best, and you’ve got him.”

Then Donohue gave his assessment of business nationally — unemployment is too high, growth for the year is expected to be at about 3 percent, about two million jobs will be created, and the federal government is all to eager to implement new regulations.

“Major corporations are sitting on $2 trillion,” Donohue said, adding that they are cautious about investing those dollars because of the uncertainty of new rules and regulations. “People are holding onto their money.”

With the potential “explosion” of regulations, Donohue said the U.S. Chamber has its own law firm that regularly sues the federal government in an effort to protect the nation’s business interests.

Surprisingly, Donohue did advocate for tax increase. “I do want to increase the federal gas tax,” he said. “We haven’t done that in 18 years.”

Because vehicles have become so much more fuel efficient, drivers — including truckers — have been paying about half of what they used to pay in gasoline taxes. More revenue is needed to properly maintain the nation’s roads and highways. Donohue proposed increasing the gas tax by 5 cents a year for four years.

To those who would oppose such a gas tax increase, Donohue’s message was simple. “Don’t pay it,” he said. “Stay home.”

For much of his talk, Donohue was quite critical of the Obama administration. But he did praise the work that Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE (General Electric), is doing as head of Obama’s economic advisory panel.

In one of the funnier moments during his Rotary talk, Donohue was asked if Congress was going to raise the debt ceiling.

Yes, it will be raised, Donohue answered, mainly because the country can not afford to not pay its bills. To those newly-elected representatives who say they aren’t going to raise the debt ceiling and will shut down government, Donohue said the U.S. Chamber has its own message: “We’ll get rid of you.”

He then went on to praise U.S. House Speaker John Boehner for his Congressional leadership.

“He’s growing into his shorts,” Donohue said. “He’s put on his big boy pants.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

32 replies
  1. Cityzen says:

    Congrats on the end of your post being picked up on Brad DeLong’s leading economics blog. Though you did rather bury the lede! If Donohue’s checkbook can bully know-nothing far-right congressmen into avoiding a US default, I guess he’s good for something.

    http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/06/a-prediction-that-john-boehner-will-in-fact-pass-a-clean-debt-ceiling-bill.html

    A Prediction that John Boehner Will in Fact Pass a Clean Debt Ceiling Bill

    Boehner “has put on his big boy pants,” says U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue. – Maria Saporta:

    U.S. Chamber’s Tom Donohue tells Atlanta Rotary how business is faring in D.C. | SaportaReport: [Tom] Donohue was asked if Congress was going to raise the debt ceiling. Yes, it will be raised, Donohue answered, mainly because the country can not afford to not pay its bills. To those newly-elected representatives who say they aren’t going to raise the debt ceiling and will shut down government, Donohue said the U.S. Chamber has its own message: “We’ll get rid of you.” He then went on to praise U.S. House Speaker John Boehner for his Congressional leadership. “He’s growing into his shorts,” Donohue said. “He’s put on his big boy pants.”Report

    Reply
  2. Patriot Lady says:

    Tom Donohue sounds exactly like the Union Thugs. Is that who he is supporting? And he thinks the Americans who can’t afford even higher gas prices should stay home? What country is he living in? Well, I’ll tell you one thing. The greatest country in the world doesn’t need smart mouth thugs like him telling us what to do. With unemployment at over 9% he wants everyone who can’t afford $5.00 a gallon for gas to stay home? Kiss off you thug. We’ll see who goes first.Report

    Reply
  3. Cityzen says:

    Donohue’s definitely a thug and unfortunately he has the Supreme Court on his side for unlimited interference of big corporate money in elections. On this occasion, though, he’s talking much-needed sense to Republican House members who are drunk on Tea Party economic ignorance. If House Republicans force a Treasury default it will spark another financial crisis and even higher unemployment. They apparently think high unemployment will win them the next election, hence their refusal to allow stimulus spending and their playing chicken with default. It’s about time big business woke up and told them to quit.Report

    Reply
  4. Greg Bickley says:

    I’m so fucking tired of hearing assholes like Donohue saying businesses are sitting on their cash because of uncertainty regarding regulations. That is total BS. They sitting on their cash because they are losing customers and there is no end in sight for continued job losses. Businesses dont hire til they have more customers they wont have more customers til more people get a job and have an income. Hmmmm its a catch 22 that the private sector cant extract itself from.

    Somebody name me one regulation that is being considered or has been initiated since Obama took office that can even reasonably be considered to be inhibitory to businesses?? Just one. It cant be done.Report

    Reply
  5. Hissyspit says:

    More “business friendly?” Many policies defined as such by the Chamber and SOME in business are not good for business in the long run, only short-term cash-in or feel-good policies, are deleterious or disastrous to our society or our nation, or are business-friendly to only a privileged few. The national Chamber under Donohue has been made into an extremist right-wing organization that has lost the respect of many local chambers , municipalities and Americans.Report

    Reply
  6. Sinya says:

    “He’s growing into his shorts,” Donohue said. Translation Bonehead is learning the rules of engagement GOP style. Or take it as I did, “He’s growing IN his shorts”.Report

    Reply
  7. ylobrkrd says:

    To those newly-elected representatives who say they aren’t going to raise the debt ceiling and will shut down government, Donohue said the U.S. Chamber has its own message: “We’ll get rid of you.”

    What was the Chamber thinking when it helped create this teaparty monster. They should have sent a How To book along with the requisite cellphone with these children so they would have a clue. It’s turned into some Greek play (no pun intended).Report

    Reply

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