August 19, 2013

GOP-aligned business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and others played a key role in helping elect dozens of conservatives to the House and Senate. Now that these conservatives are trying to drag Congress into multiple confrontations that could do untold economic damage, however, the groups that played such a big role in shaping this Congress are none too happy with the forces they helped unleash.

National Journal’s Jill Lawrence has a good piece in which she interviews some of the top officials at these organizations, and finds they are shocked and dismayed by what they have wrought. “You don’t really know what they’re going to do or why,” laments the president of the National Small Business Association. And they are very, very unhappy about it:

For businesses, the stakes amid all this disruption are enormous. They are keenly interested in tax reform and immigration reform. They would like to see more federal spending on infrastructure and less on entitlements, and less federal regulation across the board. They don’t like brinkmanship on budget and debt issues, or the more routine dysfunction that has stalled transportation and agriculture legislation important to both parties and much of the private sector. And as most business groups have made crystal clear, they really, really don’t like the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Yet there is little to no business support for the latest tea-party-driven crusade to block any funding bill that includes money for the health care law, even if it means the government would shut down when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, calls that “not the politically astute thing to do.”[...]

Josten recounts his talks with newbie conservative members who promised in their campaigns to reduce the size, cost, and reach of the federal government, and also promised not to compromise their principles. He brings up the idea that “Pledge No. 2 may be sabotaging your ability to achieve Pledge No. 1.” Their response? “Some people get it, and some people don’t,” he says, and some people don’t care, because their top goal is maintaining an identity separate from the bipartisan establishment that increased the size of government and the national debt.

Oops.

Of course, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise, because this has happened before. After business groups helped bankroll the Tea Party insurgency in the 2010 midterms, the Congressional GOP staged a debt ceiling crisis in 2011 that those same groups saw as reckless and dangerous.

But the crusade to shut down the government to defund Obamacare actually takes us into new territory. That’s because these groups are now finding that the push to defund Obamacare is directly counter to their interests, in the sense that they would at least like to see Congress try to fix Obamacare for the sake of their members. But the repeal-or-bust strategy is getting in the way of those efforts:

Bill Miller, senior vice president in charge of outreach to Congress and the administration at the policy-oriented Business Roundtable, says his group considers [the shutdown] strategy unrealistic and is now focused on trying to shape ACA regulations.

The NSBA and the more conservative NFIB, the only business group to join a multistate lawsuit against the ACA, would prefer that Congress address individual provisions that are problematic for their small-business constituents. “We’d love to see repeal, obviously. But given the legislative arithmetic, it would be better to focus on the most onerous parts for small business,” says Eckerly. As for the defund faction, “It’s a great way for them to raise money, but it’s not going to happen.”

But groups that would like to see changes to the law are finding themselves frustrated by the GOP’s posture, which is that full repeal is the only acceptable stance. The most recent example of this that Republicans are blocking Dem efforts to fix a glitch in the law that could harm small churches.

Jonathan Chait noted the other day: “Where this policy is likely to hurt Republicans…is with organized interests…There’s only one party that will be endorsing practical solutions. Republicans will be completely locked out by their insanely spiteful refusal to work within the contours of the new health-care law.”

It’s hard to work up much sympathy for GOP-aligned groups, given that they should have seen this coming in the endless repeal votes, the refusal of House conservatives to allow the GOP to embrace even the popular goals of Obamacare because it could legitimize Big Government, and other signs that today’s GOP is deep into “post policy” territory. But as Jonathan Bernstein noted recently, this continues to bear watching, because the question is whether all of this will get to a point where such groups are prepared to seriously distance themselves from the party.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.