Chamber backs repeal vote on healthcare reform

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 11, 2011 2:20pm EST

Client Viola Sanon has her finger pricked for a blood sugar test in the Family Van in Boston, Massachusetts, August 9, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Client Viola Sanon has her finger pricked for a blood sugar test in the Family Van in Boston, Massachusetts, August 9, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Corporate America's biggest lobbying group on Tuesday praised a more business-friendly tone from the White House, but backed Republican efforts to dismantle the Obama administration's healthcare overhaul.

"We see the upcoming House vote as an opportunity for everyone to take a fresh look at healthcare reform," U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said.

The Republican-led House of Representatives was set to conduct a largely symbolic vote to repeal Obama's signature domestic accomplishment this week, but it was delayed after the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Donohue, in delivering his annual "State of American Business" address, also pressed for more open markets in China, warned against over-regulation and called for aggressive cuts to government spending.

He said the United States should push its trading partners to open markets. But he added "starting a trade war with one of our fastest-growing export partners is not the answer."

President Barack Obama is due to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao on January 19.

Donohue flagged the large U.S. deficit as a major concern, saying the chamber would back strong proposals to cut spending, while acknowledging that the United States has limited ability to reduce the deficit until unemployment eases.

"Our current fiscal path leads to only one destination -- insolvency," Donohue said.

Republicans had promised before the November elections to roll back federal spending to 2008 levels, which would mean a reduction of $100 billion from the $1.34 trillion discretionary budget Obama proposed last year.

Donohue said the chamber would throw support behind spending cut proposals "even if we don't like all the details."

SOOTHING, FIGHTING

Obama has recently ratcheted up efforts to soothe relations with the business community, after alienating corporate America through rhetorical attacks against Wall Street and an agenda of heavy regulation.

Democrat Obama, who must reduce U.S. unemployment stuck above 9 percent or suffer likely punishment by voters in the 2012 presidential election, hosted a meeting with business chiefs late last year to solicit their aid.

He will meet with the chamber on February 7. A White House spokeswoman said he will discuss the economic recovery, U.S. competitiveness and job creation.

Donohue on Tuesday renewed his pledge to work with the Obama administration.

But he also worried aloud that the business community would face additional headwinds as Obama turns to regulatory agencies to push his agenda, adding more costs.

He lamented an "explosion of new regulatory activity" in recent years.

U.S. regulators have to write dozens of rules to implement the Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed last year. Regulators are also carrying out the healthcare reform law and are tightening oversight of the offshore oil industry.

The chamber, along with Business Roundtable, has already filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Securities and Exchange Commission's newly adopted "proxy access" rule that gives shareholders greater power to nominate corporate directors.

Donohue said that fight is "far from over." He said the chamber would create a new group to tell Americans about the "massive costs" of excessive regulations.

(Reporting by Kim Dixon and Doug Palmer, editing by Dave Zimmerman)