US Chamber spells out its own job agenda

WASHINGTON (AP) — Putting a business imprint on the debate over jobs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday issued an open letter to Congress and to the White House calling for a series of measures designed to increase employment, including greater oil drilling, quicker road and bridge construction and temporary corporate tax breaks.

If enacted, the chamber estimates the steps could encourage corporations to spend much of the nearly $2 trillion dollars that have accumulated on their balance sheets and generate more than 6 million jobs by 2013, and even more in ensuing years.

The chamber is looking to influence job creation proposals just days after a bleak government employment report showed no net job growth in August and four days before President Barack Obama delivers an economic speech to a joint session of Congress. Chamber proposals on trade and infrastructure are sure to overlap with some Obama administration initiatives. Others, such as the corporate tax breaks and oil drilling, are more certain to win Republican support.

Chamber President Thomas Donohue released the seven-page letter as the first step in a campaign to draw attention to the chamber's proposals and influence Washington policymakers. The effort includes newspaper and Internet ads and outreach to chamber members nationwide.

The campaign will encourage business leaders across the country to contact members of Congress and the White House to prod them into passing job creation legislation. Chances that the president and congressional Republicans can reach any kind of deal appear to be a longshot amid a partisan environment and testy relations.

"We're having a bunch of problems right now, but when we get done fooling around and decide what we're going to do, we're going to do it, and this is a good start," Donohue said in an interview. "We're interested to listen to other ideas that meet the same criteria: Quick, fast, workable, and not costing new money."

While Obama's plan will include infrastructure spending, including possibly billions for school construction, it also is expected to propose renewing a payroll tax cut, extending jobless benefits and providing payroll tax credits to businesses that expand their hiring.

Donohue identified six job creating initiatives:

— Offering reduced tax rates to corporations on profits earned overseas, a move that the chamber says would encourage multinational corporations to bring as much as $1.2 trillion to the U.S. economy, and by temporarily reducing the tax rate companies pay on the sale of capital assets. White House officials have debated the merits of lower rates for foreign profits, but some argue that similar efforts in the past have resulted in higher dividends to stock holders rather than direct job creation. Some congressional Democrats have proposed offering such a tax break only to companies that expand their payrolls.

— Passing pending trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, modernizing export control measures and adopting changes in patent law to protect intellectual property.

— Increase oil and gas exploration to levels in place before the Gulf oil spill prompted a moratorium on offshore drilling permits, expand oil and gas exploration on federal lands and approve a $7 billion, 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The pipeline proposal has prompted daily protests at the White House which had resulted in high-profile arrests, including that of actress Daryl Hannah.

— Congressional approval of transportation, aviation and water resources programs that finance road, bridge and airport construction. Those programs are mostly paid for with gasoline taxes or other user fees. Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to approve the measures, reiterating his appeal as recently as Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address.

— Facilitate tourism by promoting American travel, streamlining visa applications and speeding up security screenings for low-risk travelers.

— Provide regulatory relief for industries, including a moratorium on rules that are deemed to have a significant economic impact until the economy has improved and employment has grown.

Obama pleased business interests, and angered environmentalists, on Friday by withdrawing a proposed regulation that would tighten smog standards. The proposed rule was estimated to cost the economy anywhere between $19 billion and $90 billion a year and had prompted an outcry from Republicans and industry leaders.

"Moving ahead on this ozone deal was an A-1 move," Donohue said.

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