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Campbell Chamber speaker calls student visa program policy ‘stupid’

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's efforts include immigration reform, an official told Campbell County Chamber of Commerce members today.

Chris Eyler, executive director of the Northwest Region in the Congressional and Public Affairs Division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, addresses Campbell County business community members Oct. 10. (Mary Stroka/County 17)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Today, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official addressed about 100 business leaders, local government leaders and other stakeholders at CAM-PLEX about the national economy.

Chris Eyler, executive director of the Northwest Region in the Congressional and Public Affairs Division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that the nation might face a recession in the first or second quarter of 2024 and that the Federal Reserve has indicated it will likely consider raising interest rates again because of the current rate of inflation.

“This has had the effect of obviously raising the cost of borrowing for a house and generally raising the cost of borrowing for businesses,” he said. “That said, the housing market remains steady, consumer spending remains steady and overall consumption is continuing to grow.”

While U.S. consumers built up trillions in savings during the pandemic, they spent those savings quickly as the economy started to reopen, he said. Now, the country has less in savings than it did in February 2020. Consumers are now carrying significant credit card balances. The Chamber is pleased to see the economic resilience but is concerned about the future.

Polarization

For one thing, the political scene is a mess, he said. In addition to the narrow avoidance of a government shutdown in September and the record votes in January for a speaker of the House of Representatives, Congress barely made a deadline in June for making an agreement regarding the debt ceiling.

“This is something that always gives the business community anxiety,” he said. “A default on our debt would be economically catastrophic.”

The chaos has been building for a couple of decades as polarization and disruption have become the norm, he said. Party control of Congressional districts has become less and less competitive, so Congressional representatives have become more concerned about winning primaries rather than winning the general election. They have therefore tended to race to political extremes. States are becoming more politically homogenous, with Republican or Democrat trifectas leaving voters unhappy and cynical.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that the frequency with which businesses on the S&P 500 said in their 10-K filings that they were concerned about public policy’s impact on operations rose 27% from 2011 to 2021. It peaked during the Obama Administration at 39%. Chamber members said they’re concerned about constant change in government control and increasing partisanship in lawmaking.

Permitting reform

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce advocated for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and this year it is prioritizing permitting reform, addressing the worker shortage through immigration reform, pushing back on what some see as the Biden Administration’s overreach via government regulations and making sure the government does not shut down.

“If we’re going to have a thriving economy, we need an operating and stable government,” he said.

Many infrastructure projects currently take an average of seven years to acquire all the federal permits they need, but getting the Fiscal Responsibility Act passed helped. That act requires approval within two or three years of permits required to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act.

Immigration could stunt workforce shortage

Eyler said Wyoming has one of the most significant work shortages in the U.S. The state has about 18,000 job openings compared with 8,700 people looking for work. The chamber estimates that for every 100 job openings in the state, there are 60 available qualified workers. The worker shortage problem precedes the pandemic, and the job openings tend to be lesser skilled workers.

To address workforce shortage challenges in Wyoming and nationally, the Chamber is advocating for reforming the immigration system through border security through increasing government resources, modernizing the system of employee-based visas and making sure employers have what they need to verify that workers are here legally and eligible to work.

“We need to give the government the resources it needs to secure the border, be it personnel, technology, physical barriers,” he said. “Government needs more resources in order to secure the border and it needs the resources in order to process people who want to come here so that we’re letting in the people we want to come in and we’re making sure those that we don’t want to come in aren’t able to come in.”

Many public employees retire or resign, he said. There are not enough administration law judges to process asylum claims, and there are not enough border patrol agents to secure the border. The State Department does not have enough personnel in embassies to process visa applications from people who want to legally immigrate.

Currently, visa programs do not allow enough workers to come in to meet employers’ demands and the quotas for the visas fill within days of their opening, according to Eyler. People who are in the U.S. on student visas are required to leave the country once they graduate, even if they want to work.

“That’s stupid,” he said.

Government spending is a problem that needs to be addressed, but currently the people who are threatening government shutdowns are focused on discretionary appropriations. Instead, they should focus on the largest government spending, which is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The programs are supposed to run out of the ability to pay full benefits by 2033. The country needs more workers to pay into the systems if the people want the programs to remain sustainable long-term.

Federal, Chamber efforts regarding unions

He said the Chamber is seeing a coordinated effort at the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board to promote unionization.

The Department of Labor is trying to raise the threshold under which employers must pay employees overtime from about $35,000 to $55,000, with automatic increases every three years. They also want to make it more difficult for employers to classify people as independent contractors and make it easier for union representatives to join OSHA tours, even if an employer is not unionized.

The National Labor Relations Board is reviewing cases that would allow unions to unionize a section of the workforce if they cannot get support to fully unionize the businesses, prohibit employers from holding meetings on unionizing after employees file paperwork to unionize and make corporations be held liable for employees at franchises.

The Chamber is opposing many of these regulations and plans to challenge them if they do get finalized, Eyler said. The Chamber’s efforts are largely successful because of local chambers’ support.

Local voice

Campbell County Chamber of Commerce Chair Jared Green said the U.S. should be protecting its borders, not concern itself with Ukraine’s border security, and that Eyler’s statement that the country could have a recession in the first or second quarters of 2024 is speculation.

“They thought one was already going to happen this year and then it hasn’t,” he said.

Green said he believes the Federal Reserve controls interest rates and creates inflation through increasing the monetary supply, and that Campbell County residents do not have any control over it.

“We’re just victims of it, but we’re definitely all being affected,” he said, “and we can say that there’s a worker shortage and I notice it, but opening the floodgate for the world to come, that’s not an appropriate measure either.”

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