WASHINGTON (AP) — American businesses are facing numerous risks and few upsides as they enter 2016, with political uncertainties, greater regulation and cyber theft among their top concerns, says the leader of the nation's most influential business lobby.
Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday he's not forecasting a recession but that the coming year looks a lot like the past six with what he described as tepid growth. He said he's seeing a lot of negatives globally with many key trading partners struggling.
"When you add it all up, the state of American businesses in 2016 is filled with uncertainty, risks and challenge," Donohue said.
Donohue said the presidential primaries are also a concern. On the Democratic side, he said, candidates are calling for more spending and taxes while on the Republican side, "sometimes loud voices" are walling off the U.S. from talent and attacking whole groups based on ethnicity or religion.
"This is morally wrong and politically stupid," Donohue said.
The Chamber of Commerce is a huge player on the national and state political scene, able to tap millions of dollars to influence the outcome of elections. Donohue said his group will play an active role in the coming elections with the main focus being on electing candidates who understand that it's the private sector that creates jobs and prosperity.
The leader of the Republican-leaning group vowed to work hard to protect gains from when the GOP took control of both the House and Senate. At the same time, he warned that lawmakers who come to Washington wanting to shut it down won't get the group's support.
The chamber doesn't endorse a candidate in the presidential election, but Donohue said that if any of the candidates "beat up" on business, he or she will hear from the group.
Donohue said Congress had a productive 2015 and completed work on several chamber priorities, including ending the crude oil export ban, passing transportation and education reform bills, and renewing several tax breaks.
The focus in 2016 will be on passing a free trade agreement among 12 countries called the Trans-Pacific Partnership and enacting changes that will sustain Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he said.
The group is also going to battle an array of regulatory actions in court and in Congress, Donohue said, citing proposals to require overtime pay for certain workers and limiting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling as particular examples.
Donohue noted President Barack Obama's optimistic State of the Union address, and then contrasted that with a view from business leaders who saw corporate profits peak some quarters ago and new small businesses forming at the lowest rate in many years. For companies depending upon exports, the strong dollar and weak growth abroad are making them less competitive, he said.