Business to Biden: prepare for a fight over tax and minimum wage


Business leaders are warning they will fight moves to raise corporate taxes, tighten regulation and double the federal minimum wage under the Biden administration — even as they signalled strong support for the new president’s plans to tame the pandemic and stimulate the US economy. 

Trade associations and individual executives have publicly affirmed the legitimacy of Mr Biden’s election, pulled campaign contributions from Republicans who contested his victory and given parts of his agenda a warmer welcome than Democrats have been used to from the business community. 

They have also welcomed a number of proposed policy reversals including rejoining the Paris climate accord and re-entering the World Health Organisation and creating a path to citizenship for 11m undocumented immigrants.

These amounted to “a most promising start for a new federal administration”, the Partnership for New York City said on Tuesday. 

“The CEOs of the Business Roundtable stand ready to be constructive partners” to the new administration, Doug McMillon, the Walmart chief executive who chairs the big-business lobby group, said. 

The US Chamber of Commerce, which has traditionally supported far more Republicans than Democrats, adopted a similar tone last week when chief executive Tom Donohue declared that it would “look for a lot of ways to make the Biden administration succeed”. 

But Mr Donohue hedged his comment by adding that the business group’s members would not “give away the store right up front”. 

The middle of a fragile pandemic recovery was “exactly the wrong time to further test the resiliency of businesses by hiking taxes or heaping on new regulations that do more harm than good”, he warned, saying the chamber would use every tool at its disposal to ward off “regulatory over-reach”. 

Raising corporate taxes would be “a really retrograde step”, BRT chief executive Josh Bolten said on Tuesday, even as he voiced the group’s backing for Mr Biden’s plans to accelerate vaccinations, support small businesses and pursue policy priorities from infrastructure investments to rethinking tariffs on America’s allies. 

Their comments were both a restatement of long-held positions on tax and regulation and a signal that Mr Biden is likely to find that corporate support is limited, particularly when it comes to funding his spending plans. 

That could also leave the incoming president struggling to satisfy a liberal wing of his party that is determined to see corporate tax increases, tougher regulation on energy, finance and tech companies, and an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15.

Doug McMillon, Walmart chief executive, with outgoing President Donald Trump at the White House in March last year © Bloomberg

Mr McMillon said BRT members favoured raising the minimum wage in a “thoughtful” way that took geographic differences and the needs of small businesses into account. Neil Bradley, the chamber’s chief policy officer, said it saw “nothing sensible about $15”, arguing that such a rate would cost jobs and damage the economy.

Democrats’ plans to stimulate the economy with investment in infrastructure programmes ranging from bridge-building to upgrading broadband networks have found widespread support among business leaders, who have voiced hopes that such measures can pass an almost evenly split Congress. 

“Even in a 50-50 Senate and a House divided by 5 votes, this can be done — and it might build some goodwill for bipartisan progress on other priorities,” Mr Donohue said last week. But he argued that new infrastructure investments should be paid for in part by the people who use them rather than by higher corporate taxes.

Executives have signalled strong support for Mr Biden’s proposed immigration reforms, for programmes to retrain unemployed Americans and for much of the incoming administration’s climate agenda. 

On Tuesday, the chamber announced a shift in its climate policy to support market-based approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, without endorsing any specific carbon pricing proposals. “I think that’s one of the areas where there will be a lot of alignment with the incoming administration and the business community,” Mr McMillon said. 

With little room for manoeuvre in Congress, Mr Biden may take comfort from a growing consensus among corporate donors that businesses need to throw more weight behind those politicians who are willing to work across the aisle. 

Responding to the attack on the Capitol that interrupted a vote to certify Mr Biden’s election victory, Mr Bradley said last week that the chamber would be methodical both about holding those politicians who had “forfeited” its support through their actions and about rewarding those who had “stood up in very trying and difficult circumstances”. 

Mr McMillon seconded that suggestion on Tuesday. Asked how business could encourage more bipartisan policymaking in a split Congress that has been marked for years by partisan division, the Walmart chief said: “Reward the centrists.”


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