The president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday criticized President Barack Obama's administration for pushing regulations and for not approving a cross-country oil pipeline and defended Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney against GOP attacks about his venture capital firm.
Thomas Donohue decried what he called "a regulatory avalanche" that is placing a drag on the economy. He called on Obama to act swiftly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline which would carry oil from Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast, but which has come under stiff resistance from environmentalists.
Obama had delayed approval until 2013, after the presidential election, but must now make a decision by next month as a condition for Congress approving a short-term payroll tax cut extension.
"There's no legitimate reason, none at all, to subject it to further delay," Donohue said in a speech assessing the state of American business.
Donohue's remarks came as relations between the chamber and the White House remain more adversarial than cooperative. Though Donohue applauded the administration for completing trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia last year, his remarks mostly focused on areas where he said the administration was either overreaching or had fallen short.
In a veiled swipe at Obama, Donohue said: "Real leaders wouldn't wait another day without trying to solve the serious economic and financial challenges facing our country," he said. "They wouldn't tell us that the solutions will have to wait until after the election."
Responding to media questions afterward, Donohue despaired of the assault on Romney from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In recent days, Gingrich and Perry have singled out businesses that failed after being acquired by Bain and portrayed Romney as putting profits over job creation.
"It's just been foolish for the Republicans to carry on that line of attack because they're not doing anything other than setting up the ad base for their opponents," Donohue said.
The chamber does not endorse presidential candidates, but as the head of the biggest business organization in the country Donohue made no effort to mask his admiration of Romney's business experience.
"In anybody's look at private equity, would have to say he formed a great firm and he had a pretty good track record," Donohue said. "Perfect? Hell no, but damn good."
"Romney at least has experience beyond most of the candidates throughout both parties in terms of having operated successfully in the global market pace and in the free enterprise system," he added.
Donohue also criticized Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency whose structure and authority the chamber has long opposed. He predicted that the appointment, which Obama made in direct defiance of Republican lawmakers, would result in lawsuits challenging the bureau's actions.
But he said the chamber has not decided whether to challenge the bureau in court.
"On this one, we're working our way through it," he said.
Donohue dismissed the $447 billion jobs plan that Obama proposed last year. Instead, he noted that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had passed 30 job-related bills but that the Democratic-controlled Senate had yet to act on any.
"Surely there must be some good ideas in those bills that a majority of senators could support," he said.