Chamber of Commerce lobbyist accuses White House of ‘name-calling'

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 26, 2009

The chief lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce alleged Sunday that there is a White House campaign of "invectives" and "name-calling" against his organization, and said the business group is eager to ignore the heated rhetoric.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," longtime Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten said the group's relationship with the White House began to sour after differences of opinion developed about President Obama's health-care and economic agendas.

"Let's be clear, we haven't raised up the Cain. It came from their side of the street," Josten said, referring to the White House, which sits just across Lafayette Park from the Chamber's national headquarters.

"We intend to remain focused on our goals and our responsibilities to represent the American business," Josten said. "We're not going to take the bait and engage in a name-calling campaign here of invectives back and forth. We're going to stay focused."

White House officials contend they are not waging a campaign against the Chamber and they say top officials remain open to discussions with the group's leadership. Members of the administration's business outreach team met last week with business leaders, including Chamber representatives. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Friday accepted a request to be the keynote speaker at the Chamber's board meeting early next month. And the president invited the Chamber and the National Federation of Independent Business to the White House for an event on Thursday in which he will discuss small business.

"There has, of course, been disagreement on issues like energy and regulatory reform," said deputy press secretary Jen Psaki, referring to the Chamber's vocal opposition to many of the administration's chief policy goals. "But we're going to continue to work with the Chamber on a variety of issues including job creation for large and small businesses."

But despite the efforts of both sides to dial back the tensions over the weekend, the clash between the Chamber and the White House is a clear indication that Obama intends to challenge the power of lobbyists.

During his presidential campaign, Obama vowed to "tell Washington, and their lobbyists, that their days of setting the agenda are over." And just a month into office, he said in a radio address that "the system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don't. I work for the American people."

That sentiment has run into a massive lobbying presence in Washington which is fighting back against the president's push for health-care reform, his climate change legislation and his plans to regulate the financial sector.

But Obama is fighting back, too, by seeking to meet directly with business leaders and by verbally calling out groups such as the Chamber for their reliance on big-time lobbying.

Psaki said the reaction from Josten and others at the Chamber is an indication that they are feeling the impact of Obama's efforts.

"Under the Obama administration, Washington is changing and the role of big lobbying organizations like the Chamber has changed as well," Psaki said.

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