The decision to shut down the government because Democrats would not make major changes to President Obama’s health-care law underscored the fading influence of traditional business interests in the Republican Party — and the rising influence of more confrontational and conservative tea party groups that encouraged Republicans to embrace the shutdown strategy.
“While I don’t think the Affordable Care Act is in the best interest of the country, I also don’t think it is in the best interest of the country to shut the government down,” said Harold L. Jackson, executive chairman of Buffalo Supply, a Colorado medical equipment company.
Jackson, who sits on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and leans Republican, said he thinks the GOP has given in too much to the demands of hard-core conservatives.
“I still think it’s pretty much a tea party minority that is causing the ruckus, and we will continue to try to make them come around to our way of thinking,” he said.
The experience of the Chamber of Commerce, one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying groups, may best illustrate the new tensions between Republicans and the business community.
The chamber spent more than $60 million in 2010 and 2012, helping elect tea party Republicans and winning GOP control of the House.
But while there have been signs of fraying in the relationship for several years, the GOP’s willingness to defy its strongest business supporters became clearest Tuesday with the shutdown.
The Chamber had led more than a hundred business groups in urging Congress to keep the government open.
“With the U.S. economy continuing to underperform, the federal government needs to maintain its normal operations,” a Chamber-sponsored letter said Monday, hours before the shutdown. “It is not in the best interest of the employers, employees or the American people to risk a government shutdown that will be economically disruptive and create even more uncertainties for the U.S. economy.”
A Chamber spokeswoman played down the differences between Republicans and the trade group, saying businesses don’t back candidates based on a single issue. But other conservative groups were happy to highlight the new wedge dividing the Chamber and the GOP.
The conservative Club for Growth, for instance, has been urging lawmakers to embrace a shutdown strategy, threatening to support primary challenges to lawmakers who would vote to keep the health-care law in place.
“We are a pro-free-market organization. The Chamber is a pro-business organization. Sometimes we share policy goals. Other times we do not,” said Barney Keller, communications director for the Club for Growth. “Fighting Obamacare is one of those times.”