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U.S. Chamber: We'll be heavily involved in mid-term elections, we get along 'fine' with White House

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue held a spicy press conference after his annual state of U.S. business address this morning at the chamber headquarters in Washington, and said that he "gets along fine" with the White House, despite months of an increasingly fractious relationship over health-care reform.

"There are people from the administration in this building every day," Donohue said. "We've never made it personal." Which, by the way, is very close to a famous line from "The Godfather."

The clash between the White House and the chamber has been significant and has been brewing for a few months. The chamber was not invited to Obama's December jobs summit, a snub widely noticed in the business community.

Donohue repeatedly made the point today: The chamber does not get involved in presidential politics. However, he said, the chamber and its state affiliates will be very involved in House and Senate races and even in judiciary picks. The GOP is hoping to pick off wobbly Democrats in the midterm elections this year by hammering them on the nation's 10 percent unemployment rate, support for higher taxes on businesses and rising debt.

In his speech, Donohue proposed an effort to create 20 million jobs over the next 10 years. Why so long? Because, as he pointed out in questioning after, we are now in an era of jobless recoveries following recessions. The recoveries from the '90s recession and the 2001 recession were jobless -- meaning it took months and quarters for GDP to really rise and unemployment to fall -- and that's going to be the case this time, only more so, he said.

Donohue urged President Obama to keep current tax rates in place for the foreseeable future, gravely warning that tax hikes could cause a double-dip recession "or worse."

On energy, Donohue said nuclear power needs to be part of the nation's energy-producing mix and would be a good source of new jobs. He said he has spoken to many in the environmental movement and senses a thaw in their longtime opposition to nuke plants. (They are much cleaner than coal-fired power plants.)

Donohue's speech included plenty of red meat for pro-business, free-market fans, including the assertion that health-care reform legislation as it exists in the House and Senate is a prescription for "an eventual government takeover of American health care."

He pushed for the U.S. to conclude free-trade pacts with other countries, noting that European rivals have already done so. If the U.S. does not pass a pending trade agreement with South Korea, for instance, 350,000 U.S. workers could lose their jobs, he said.

You can read Donohue's entire speech by clicking here. (He did not deliver the last two paragraphs.)

-- Frank Ahrens
Follow me on Twitter at @theticker

By Frank Ahrens  |  January 12, 2010; 12:44 PM ET
Categories:  Obama , The Ticker  | Tags: Obama, Tom Donohue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce  
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