Thomas Donohue, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, declared 2014 the "year of immigration reform," Wednesday, during his annual state of American business address.
"We're determined to make 2014 the year that immigration reform is finally enacted," Donohue said. "The chamber will pull out all the stops—through grassroots lobbying, communications, politics and partnerships with our friends in the union, and faith-based organizations, and law enforcement groups, and others to get this job done."
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Immigration reform was one of several items on the chamber’s agenda for 2014. Other reforms he endorsed included expanding domestic energy production, delaying or repealing the employer mandate under Obamacare, and comprehensive tax reform to lower rates and simplify the code.
Donohue also warned that the entitlement crisis is the "most predictable crisis in American history." By 2023 entitlement spending and interest on the debt will account for 76 percent of government outlays, he said, increasing federal spending to nearly $6 trillion per year.
"It’s time for our leaders to act like leaders, to tell the American people the truth," Donohue said, "and to craft a fair, sensible plan to reform and save these vital programs."
Donohue laid out a vision to "expand opportunity for all," and argued immigration reform is vital to that aim.
"Throughout history, immigrants have brought innovation, ideas, investments, and dynamism to American enterprise," he said. "And in terms of demographics, we need immigration."
Critics of the Senate’s immigration bill have argued that adding millions of immigrants and guest workers will harm the lagging economy and reduce American wages. The "Gang of Eight" bill would add an estimated 30 million additional immigrants to the United States over the next decade at a time when the number of Americans not in the labor force has reached record highs.
During a press conference following his address, Donohue said he is "encouraged" by what he hears coming out of the House of Representatives and believes they will pass immigration reform later this year.
Last year the legislation stalled after it was passed in the Senate, as the House said it would take up a targeted, piecemeal approach focused on border security and a Republican version of the DREAM Act.
"2013 we liked," Donohue said. "We made a deal in the Senate, we did that with a cooperative basis with the AFL-CIO, and with lots of other people, then we started working in the House, where I believe we’ve received a very positive response—a different way of doing business—435 people, not just 100 of them."
"We brought in faith-based [groups] and folks from all sorts of social activities, community leaders, and we brought business people in who see opportunities to create jobs, and what we’re going to do is a lot more of the same," he said. "And we’re going to do it back home, as well."
"My own view, I think Democrats and Republicans alike would like to go home and run for office with something they got done that’s significant," Donohue added. "I believe we’re two-thirds of the way there."
"I’ve been encouraged by a lot of the noise and soundings out of the House, and I’m not discouraged when every now and then I wake up in the morning to see a story about some reason it’s not going to work," he said. "Four hundred and thirty five people have to go home and run for office, and I think we’re going to get this done."