If Rochester’s elected officials, community and business leaders really want to see Amazon’s new headquarters located here, supporting tax reform will be the No. 1 way to see that happen.
That was one of a number of takeaways from a speech given by U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president of congressional and public affairs Ron Eidshaug at an event held at the Hyatt Regency downtown Tuesday evening.
Policy Matters—hosted by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce—drew a crowd of roughly 75 business leaders to the hotel’s renovated rooftop lounge, where Eidshaug spoke about the U.S. Chamber’s agenda in Washington and how it might help the Rochester region.
“I don’t know if you all have noticed, but things are a mess in Washington,” Eidshaug said, garnering both laughter and groans. “By a two-to-one margin, Americans think we’re on the wrong track.”
Eidshaug lamented the inability of Congress to get things done, despite a “pro-growth” administration.
“Probably the biggest thing is tax reform. There is a great opportunity to get tax reform done in this session of Congress,” Eidshaug told the Rochester Business Journal before his speech. “We don’t run into this situation very often; the last time we got tax reform done was in the mid-80s when Reagan was president.”
Having a pro-growth majority leadership in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as a president committed to tax reform, “we’re not going to get stars aligned better than they are now,” he said.
“We’re urging everyone in the business community to band together and get that message to their legislators,” Eidshaug said. “That their time is now when they need to get it done.”
Interestingly, a new report from the Congressional Management Foundation suggests that Congress is not accomplishing much because it lacks the ability to.
“We may be beyond a tipping point where there are just too many people, too much communication, too much pressure and too many crises for Senators and Representatives to manage without some serious rethinking of congressional operations and capacity,” wrote Kathy Goldschmidt, author of the report. “The cornerstone institution of our democracy must be equipped to respond to the challenges we face. Congress must adapt in the face of social transformation so it can effectively govern and lead.”
Eidshaug told Tuesday’s audience that a big factor in the mess in Washington and why nothing seems to be getting done is the economy.
“After the Great Recession of 2008, we really haven’t recovered. When you look at the number of jobs that were lost, we’ve replaced those jobs, those jobs are back, but certainly there are many unemployed and underemployed people,” he explained. “We have not been growing as robustly as we should. If you talk to the economists, we’re still not back to the long-term potential of the economy that we should be coming up on 10 years after that crisis.”
And, Eidshaug said, as individuals and as a country we have become more partisan.
“Back during the Reagan administration—the last time tax reform was done—three-quarters of the House and 60 percent of the Senate were in the middle, based on how they voted,” he explained. “Now we’re at the point where there’s virtually no middle. We’re in a period where we should expect for a lot of things to get done. The president has Republican majorities, big Republican majorities in the House and a couple of seats in the Senate. But for a whole host of reasons he hasn’t been able to get that done yet.”
The U.S. Chamber’s agenda, Eidshuag said, was to get the economy moving again, and that means 3 percent growth.
“How are we going to get there? No. 1, we need to deal with the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “No. 2, we need to deal with tax reform. We need to deal with regulatory reform. We need to deal with energy. We need to deal with trade. We need to deal with infrastructure. Maybe we need to deal with a little bit of legal reform as well.”
Rochester Chamber vice president of public policy and advocacy Chris Wiest—who was instrumental in Eidshaug’s visit to Rochester—said business leaders note a number of issues that need to be addressed in order to improve the business climate here, and perhaps get Amazon to glance our way.
“Certainly taxes are an issue we hear a lot from our members,” he said, adding that regulatory relief and Workers’ Compensation also tend to be concerns among business owners. “But I think tax reform certainly would be very appealing. When we talk about that, we talk about it at both the New York State and federal level.”
Eidshaug has served a variety of roles since joining the U.S. Chamber in 1999. He previously worked in the New York State Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform from 1995 to 1999 during the George Pataki administration.
In his role at the U.S. Chamber, Eidshaug helps oversee a team of 15 Capitol Hill lobbyists. During his speech this week he noted that while trade and infrastructure are of concern, energy has been a bright spot in the economy.
But, he acknowledged, Washington is the kind of town that thrives on leadership and that has been a challenge.
“It took Reagan 727 days to fall below 50 percent approval rating. It took ‘W’ 1,205 days to fall below 50 percent approval rating. It took Clinton 573 days to fall below 50 percent approval rating. How many days did it take Donald Trump to fall below 50 percent approval rating,” Eidshaug said. “Eight.”
There is a lot of work to be done and it is up to business leaders to make sure it happens, he said.
“Washington can do a lot for you. Washington can do a lot to you. And our ability to work together is really important,” Eidshaug said.
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