Business loses clout in GOP
Power they built with millions now turns against them
New York Times
Updated 10:22 pm, Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Published in the Times Union
As the government shutdown grinds toward a potential debt default, some of the county's most influential business executives have come to a conclusion all but unthinkable a few years ago: Their voices are carrying little weight with the House majority that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions helped build and sustain.
Their frustration has grown so intense in recent days that several trade association officials warned in interviews Wednesday that they were considering helping wage primary campaigns against Republican lawmakers who had worked to engineer the political standoff in Washington.
Such an effort would thrust Washington's traditionally cautious and pragmatic business lobby into open warfare with the tea party faction, which has grown in influence since the 2010 election and won a series of skirmishes with the Republican establishment in the last two years.
"We are looking at ways to counter the rise of an ideological brand of conservatism that, for lack of a better word, is more anti-establishment than it has been in the past," said David French, the top lobbyist at the National Retail Federation. "We have come to the conclusion that sitting on the sidelines is not good enough."
Some warned that the default could spur a shift in the relationship between the corporate world and the Republican Party. Long intertwined by mutual self-interest on deregulation and lower taxes, the business lobby and Republicans are diverging not only over the default, but on major issues like immigration reform, which was favored by business groups and party leaders but stymied in the House by many of the same lawmakers now leading the debt fight.
"There clearly are people in the Republican Party at the moment for whom the business community and the interests of the business community — the jobs and members they represent — don't seem to be their top priority," said Dan Danner, the head of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which spearheaded opposition to President Barack Obama's health care law among small businesses. "They don't really care what the NFIB thinks, and don't care what the Chamber thinks, and probably don't care what the Business Roundtable thinks."
The lawmakers seem to agree. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, a tea party caucus member, said in an interview Wednesday that if U.S. corporations wanted to send their money elsewhere, that was their choice.
"We have got to quit worrying about the next election, and start worrying about the country," said Neugebauer, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee and is a recipient of significant donations from Wall Street.
Business lobbyists acknowledged that the mere suggestion they were considering backing primary challenges next year could enhance grass-roots support for the very lawmakers they want to defeat.
But the dysfunction in Washington has turned so extreme, they said, that they had few other options.
"What we want is a conservative business person, but someone who in many respects will be more realistic, in our opinion," said Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest lobbying organization in Washington.
Despite their diminished leverage, business leaders said they would step up their appeals for an agreement.
Most of the officials said they agreed in principle with conservative lawmakers about the need to cut federal spending or roll back parts of Obamacare, but said using the threat of shutdown — or worse, of a debt default — to extract those concessions was both ineffective and dangerous.
Josten said he had been on Capitol Hill every day this week counseling compromise. "The name-calling, blame-gaming — using slurs like jihadist, terrorist, cowards, that kind of language — it does not get you to a deal," Josten said of the advice he is giving to Democrats and Republicans. "The problem is everybody is in the same corner here and everybody has to try to save some face."
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