In the next two months, the group aims to raise $50 million to $100 million, mostly from big corporations, to build public support for a debt deal and flush out its details so it can be acted on by Congress sometime after the November elections.
In many ways, this CEO effort is an end run around the elaborate and expensive apparatus that big businesses have set to influence the government in Washington, whether it be Washington offices staffed by company lobbyists or myriad business and industry associations to which they pay significant dues.
Steven Pearlstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winning business and economics columnist at The Washington Post.
In today’s highly partisan and polarized environment, the only way these business lobbyists can shape legislation or regulations of interest to their industry is to ally themselves with one party or the other and back that choice with a steady flow of political money to the party, its leaders and affiliated political-action entities. The natural choice for business has been the Republican Party.
The problem for Corporate America, however, is that the same Republicans who have been so aggressive and uncompromising in pursuing their agenda on energy or trade or corporate taxes turn out to be no less aggressive and uncompromising on issues that business may not agree on, such as eliminating federal funding for education, denying the existence of global warming or destroying Planned Parenthood.
Most significantly, while the vast majority of corporate executives would jump at signing on to a long-term budget plan that combines entitlement cuts with increased revenue, the Republican caucuses in both houses have repeatedly refused even to consider such a compromise. So does the Republican presidential candidate.
What would happen if a major company or industry group business organization were to break with the Republican caucuses and lobby for a bipartisan budget compromise? For starters, they might suddenly find that that amendment they were counting on won’t be coming up for a vote after all. And if they persist in such disloyalty, the company lobbyist or top official in such an industry group might discover that there is a quiet effort to get them fired, replaced with somebody more loyal and reliable.
Crazy conspiracy theory? No, it’s actually called the K Street Project, begun a decade ago by House Republican Leader Tom Delay. And if you doubt its effectiveness, just ask former Republican Congressman Billy Tauzin, who was pushed out as head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America because he dared to strike a compromise deal with the Obama White House on health-care reform.
The reality now facing practical, pragmatic corporate executives is that their Washington lobbying apparatus has become one with a Republican caucus on Capitol Hill that is dominated by ideological zealots and uncompromising partisans. So if they have now concluded that the most important issue for American business, and the economy, is getting a reasonable bipartisan compromise on taxes and spending, their only choice is to bypass that apparatus.