GOP Angers Big Business on Key Issues
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 1998; Page A01
Major corporations and trade associations, fearing the loss of key overseas markets to foreign competitors, are growing increasingly angry at Republican congressional leaders they see as determined to mine the China technology scandal and to accommodate the Christian right by adding abortion and religious amendments to foreign policy bills at the expense of business.
Some business leaders are threatening to pull the plug on the massive corporate PAC cash flow to the GOP that helped it stay in power two years ago. Corporate giving has gone from favoring House Democrats in 1992 to favoring the GOP in 1996: an overwhelming $36.8 million for House Republicans and just $16.2 million for Democrats.
Business cannot look to the GOP as a reliable ally, contend Charles S. Mack and Bernadette A. Budde of the Business-Industry PAC, an organization that makes recommendations to corporate political action committees. They wrote to their members: "We can no longer restrict ourselves to one or two political options in our quest to assure a genuinely and reliably pro-business majority in Congress."
"The business community never expected a Republican Congress to advance isolationism and advance the use of unilateral sanctions," said Bruce Josten, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The corporate leaders say that social conservatives and the religious right have pushed the Republican leadership into positions that threaten U.S. competitiveness in perhaps the most important growing world market, China, and that endanger U.S. interests in other key foreign markets through sanctions against countries charged with religious persecution.
In addition, the Republican House is holding up an $18 billion U.S. contribution to the International Monetary Fund, money that both the administration and many large exporters consider crucial to maintaining a semblance of economic stability in Russia, Japan and other parts of Asia.
The IMF legislation faces opposition from some Republican leaders ideologically opposed to the multilateral agency. Simultaneously, social conservatives are insisting that the legislation include anti-abortion provisions that could prompt President Clinton to veto the measure.
"Everything went south in a big way after Newt [Gingrich] and the rest of the leadership tried to make up with James Dobson and the other religious right guys. They gave away the store and we were on the shelves," said a representative of a Fortune 500 company whose firm has given substantial support to Republican candidates. "I have told my PAC director to consult with me before making any decisions, and to keep a lookout for pro-trade Democrats we can trust in the crunch," said the corporate lobbyist, who declined to be identified.
However, Bob Doyle, a Democratic fund-raiser whose clients tend to be pro-business candidates, cautioned that corporations have yet to open their spigots for Democrats. "We are trying to mine those shafts," he said, "but it's not happening yet. That money is not moving in a wholesale way."
These concerns are compounded by a host of other complaints, including that a Republican Congress has allowed one industry tobacco to become a public whipping boy, a dangerous precedent that could be used against industries as various as those engaged in the alcohol, motorcycle, pharmaceutical and other businesses.
A number of corporations involved in trade with China were particularly disturbed by a letter signed by 152 Republicans, including the entire House leadership, calling on Clinton to abandon his trip to China until allegations that administration waivers on technology exports to China were influenced by campaign contributions are fully investigated by the Justice Department and Congress.
"It's a little bit scary. The younger Republicans tend to have a more protectionist view or to be susceptible to a protectionist argument," said Paul R. Huard, senior vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers.
The comments by business leaders have provoked a firestorm both on Capitol Hill and in the conservative religious community.
"We are disappointed and our feelings are hurt," said House Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). "We have completely turned around the government in a new direction, and we still have people in the culture of Washington who cannot recognize that."
Christina Martin, spokeswoman for House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), said the leadership has been pushing pro-business bills. "Here is a friendly reminder for disgruntled D.C. business groups: The Republican Party is the party of small business, mom-and-pop storefronts and mainstream entrepreneurs, not out-of-touch K Street lobbyists. Are these types truly happier with the Democrats?"
At a leadership meeting earlier this week, Gingrich berated Budde for "polluting the waters between the business community and the House," according to a colleague. Gingrich's office released a list of 19 pending or enacted measures supported by business, including bankruptcy reform, capital gains tax cuts, tort reform, product liability reform and an Internet tax ban.
DeLay's office, in turn, noted that if Democrats took over the House, the Democratic chairs of the Ways and Means, Appropriations and Commerce committees would have BIPAC ratings of 2 percent, 1 percent and 5 percent, respectively, while the GOP incumbents are rated 100 percent, 95 percent and 98 percent.
A major point of contention is the House-passed Freedom From Religious Persecution Act. The bill would ban exports to foreign government agencies charged with persecution, cut off nonhumanitarian aid and require U.S. opposition to loans by the IMF and other multilateral agencies to countries that persecute.
The bill, a centerpiece of the religious right agenda, was criticized by Thomas J . Donahue, president of the Chamber, who argued: "This legislation would force a false choice between business and religion. . . . Continuing U.S. company presence and engagement abroad is critical to the inculcation of American civic values, including religious tolerance."
Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation countered: "American has to be about more than simply making profits. The fact of the matter is that as a nation we always stood for something."
Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company