When the call ended, Jarrett entered the Roosevelt Room of the White House to meet with lobbyists for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Financial Services Roundtable and other business groups representing aerospace and technology companies. During the meeting, Jarrett and Brian Deese, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, asked the business groups to encourage their member companies to communicate with lawmakers on the urgency of finding a negotiated solution, according to a person at the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.
Many firms have already begun such efforts. Alarmed by the standoff in Washington, companies such as Caterpillar are encouraging their employees to call and write lawmakers to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
Trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber are also discussing an unprecedented step: supporting more moderate candidates in primaries. In the past, the groups have gone to enormous lengths to support mostly Republican campaigns — but only to beat Democrats, not other Republicans.
Until this week, many in the business community have been standing on the sidelines, trusting that the GOP, to which it has been allied for decades, would work out its internal squabbling. But with some companies already seeing a drag on their businesses from the shutdown, executives are getting involved far beyond the usual menu of interests such as taxes and regulations.
Eaton Corp., an energy management firm with 30,000 employees and $22 billion in annual sales, invited its workers Friday to contact members of Congress on the budget impasse and the need for bipartisan compromise and cooperation.
Caterpillar chief executive Doug Oberhelman wrote a letter to employees this week encouraging them to sign a petition asking Congress to raise the debt ceiling.
And the U.S. Chamber is doing research on key states where it can battle back against tea party candidates willing to use the country’s debt repayments as a bargaining chip.
“I do think we need to act. We need to combine and concentrate our efforts to succeed,” said Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, noting the interest he and others have in exploring primary challenges of tea party candidates. “But the equation is complicated and requires very good information.”
Relations between the Obama administration and U.S. Chamber have been testy, with the trade group giving the vast majority of its contributions to Republican candidates in recent election cycles. But on the potential failure to raise the debt ceiling — which some House Republicans insist would be harmless — the White House and the U.S. Chamber are in solid agreement that the results would be catastrophic.