The once-stodgy U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been pressing its economic and political views with such single-minded intensity that it has irritated not only liberal adversaries, but also some business leaders and major business groups.
The commitment of the chamber, and its president, Richard Lesher, to Reaganomics in its purest form, along with the chamber's overwhelming support of Republican candidates and opposition to Democrats, has triggered the following responses in recent weeks:
* W. H. Krome George, chairman and chief executive officer of Aluminum Co. of America, has resigned from the chamber's board of directors to protest the failure of the organization to consult with corporate executives and corporate committees before making decisions.
George declined to be interviewed, but a spokesman for Alcoa said he does not share the chamber's official outlook for the economy--a decidedly more optimistic view than is held by other major business groups. In addition, George, in contrast to the chamber, supports the position of the Business Roundtable that a reduction in the third year of the Reagan tax cuts may be an essential step in reducing projected future budget deficits.
Richard Rahn, the chamber's chief economist, said he understood that George quit the board in a disagreement over political policies, not economic questions. Rahn, and a number of other separate sources, said George was particularly angered over the decision of the chamber to target Sen. James Sasser (D-Tenn.) for defeat, despite what sources said is Sasser's steadily rising "probusiness" voting record.
* While not resigning from the chamber's board, John F. Burlingame, vice chairman of the board at General Electric Co., has been sharply critical of political and economic positions taken by the business group, according to several sources.
Burlingame did not respond directly to inquiries, and a spokesman for GE minimized the dispute, describing it as "no big deal."
"Differences like that are bound to come up, and when they do, we try to settle them amicably," the spokesman said, quoting Burlingame.
The chamber's economic projections and its continued, adamant opposition to tax increases as a way of lowering the deficit also are sources of some friction between the chamber and other business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Business Conference, according to business sources.
The most outspoken comment came from James D. (Mike) McKevitt, legislative director of the NFIB, who described the chamber as "a one-man band with the White House."
His irritation was prompted in large part by the separate negotiations between the White House and the chamber, while the NFIB, NAM and other business organizations, which do not share the chamber's economic outlook, have met with White House officials as a group.
Without being critical of the chamber, Alexander Trowbridge, president of the NAM, noted that "their outlook is a good deal more optimistic than ours," and added that economic problems are now present everywhere: "The word 'recession' is in Dallas and Houston."
The economic outlook is crucial in determining budget strategy. The chamber's optimism has permitted the group to oppose any major increase in taxes.
Other business groups--concerned about the economy--have called for stronger "correction" of the Reagan economic program as enacted in 1981, including possible cutbacks in either the personal or business tax reductions, although the groups differ sharply on specifics.
Since the adoption of a revised budget last week by the Reagan administration, business leaders said they expect the differences with the chamber to grow quiet, although the chamber is to meet with White House officials today to determine whether to support the new proposal.
* Protests from a number of business groups have prompted the chamber to back off from some of its plans to target certain Democratic incumbents for defeat.
For example, the chamber had targeted Rep. James Howard (D-N.J.), chairman of the Public Works Committee, but withdrew the attack.