“They’re just plain wrong,” Clark told CNN in a rare interview. “We’ve had decades of low inflation. There hasn’t been a magic spurt of consolidation over the last month or the last quarter. That’s not what’s happening.”
Clark, the first woman to head America’s largest business lobby group, instead attributes the 40-year high in inflation to a range of other forces unrelated to corporate concentration.
“We know what’s going on. We know there’s a worker shortage that’s driving up wages. We know there’s a power shortage. There’s a housing shortage,” Clark said. .
The Chamber of Commerce CEO argued that significant steps could be taken to help ease price pressure, including lifting tariffs, boosting legal immigration and focusing on domestic power generation .
“There’s real work we could do, or we could keep politicizing it,” Clark said.
Of course, the Chamber of Commerce represents some large corporations that have benefited from the same corporate power issues that Warren pointed out.
Elizabeth Warren responds
Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has repeatedly warned that the concentration of corporate power has helped create the conditions for higher prices.
Warren responded to the Chamber of Commerce CEO’s comments by pointing out that more than 75% of U.S. industries, from agriculture to healthcare, have less competition than 20 years ago.
“Giant companies are taking advantage of supply chain challenges to raise prices and boost profits,” Warren told CNN through a spokesperson.
“The American people know big business and Washington lobbyists put profits before families,” Warren said, “and I fight every day to cut costs for workers by cracking down on price gouging and breaking corporate monopolies”.
A White House official told CNN that corporate concentration is a “decades-old problem” and no one in the administration says it’s the main driver of current inflation. The official said President Joe Biden plans to say in a speech Tuesday that the two main causes of inflation are the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“But that doesn’t mean big business should be absolved of anti-competitive practices that have driven up prices over a long period of time,” the White House official said, pointing specifically to prescription drugs, hearing aids, the internet. invoices and postage. “At the very least, companies that make record profits while raising prices should pay their fair share of taxes.
Expensive childcare and labor shortages
Meanwhile, labor shortages continue to be a major concern for business leaders and politicians.
“This is the key issue that every CEO in America is talking about,” Clark said, adding that labor shortages are at the heart of inflation and supply chain disorder.
The labor shortage is due to a confluence of factors including Covid issues, early retirements and high childcare costs.
“It’s a very complicated issue that keeps moms and dads out of the market. And too often that burden falls on women,” Clark said. “We have to do everything we can to get people off the sideline and back to work.”
Building Back Better and Roe vs. Wade
When asked if the House would support Build Back Better’s child care proposals on a stand-alone basis, Clark was evasive.
“We would look into it,” she said. “We don’t like the big tax-and-spend reconciliation frenzy, the Christmas tree stuff, the packages. But there are definitely some proposals in there that deserve real debate and a real conversation.”
Beyond childcare, Clark called on the United States to step up legal immigration to provide an influx of workers that businesses need right now.
“We can secure our borders, as all great nations do, and increase legal immigration,” she said. “The loud voices claiming in this debate that these are binary choices are simply not fair.”
However, Clark declined to comment on another issue facing the workforce: a possible abortion ban if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
“It’s not something we’ve ever taken a position on,” Clark said, adding that she doesn’t have a personal opinion on the controversial issue.
Biden’s ‘mixed’ economic record
The economy continues to drag down President Joe Biden’s polling numbers.
Clark declined to give Biden a letter grade on the economy, instead describing his impact as a “mixed bag.”
On the positive side, Clark praised Biden’s efforts to enact bipartisan infrastructure legislation, an achievement former President Donald Trump tried and failed to achieve. And she praised the open dialogue between the US House and the White House.
“We have a respectful relationship. They call us, we call them. We meet them a lot,” Clark said. “When we disagree, we don’t surprise each other. We’re pretty candid about what works and what doesn’t.”
Clark named Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese as Biden officials who have been very open to conversations, even when they disagree.
However, Clark expressed concern about what she described as the Biden administration’s “overregulation.” She specifically pointed to comments by Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, who said in September that her agency’s job was to “shape the distribution of power and opportunity in our economy.”
“It’s scary. We believe in the free market, not government solutions,” Clark said.
And Clark urged the Biden administration to pursue a “bolder” trade agenda.
“The fact that we can’t do a US-UK trade deal seems silly,” she said. “It only disadvantages our families and communities and does not help our allies.”
Despite his attacks on big business, the Jan. 6 insurgency and the U.S.-China trade war, Clark said Trump is “largely” pro-business.
“There’s a lot of credit to be given to deregulation and the tax agenda. Those are still very much on the minds of job creators,” Clark said.
Lawsuits to block Biden?
Looking ahead, the Chamber of Commerce CEO signaled that the group is bracing for further battles with the White House in case the midterm elections bring the deadlock back to Washington.
Clark suggested that if Republicans take over one or both houses of Congress, the Biden administration might be tempted to lean more into executive orders.
“Companies must be prepared to use litigation and other means to vet them,” Clark said, “to ensure they don’t overstep their constitutional authority.”