White House Turns Its Guns On The Chamber Of Commerce

by Sam Stein

Several weeks into office, as it pushed its wide-reaching stimulus package through Congress, the Obama administration found itself the beneficiary of an unlikely ally. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce declared that the $800 billion proposal was a necessary “defibrillator” for a struggling economy and in doing so, gave the president a needed bit of political capital on his signature piece of legislation.

The endorsement also produced a strange-bedfellows partnership between a White House whose remaining domestic priorities ruffled big business and the world’s largest lobbying entity for those same businesses. The detente seemed both unusual and limited. It was.

Nine months after the Chamber helped the White House pass the stimulus and then the bank bailout, the relationship between the two has grown — as one business insider put it — “frosty.” The Chamber has come out forcefully against several key planks of the Obama agenda and promised to throw hefty resources behind their opposition.

The frustration is mutual. Inside the administration there is a growing distrust of the Chamber’s standing and motives. The defection of several major Chamber members over the group’s position on climate change legislation has, as one Obama adviser put it, “given us pause.” As has their new $100 million “free enterprise” campaign, which is being pitched as a way to create jobs but is aiming mainly to defeat regulatory reform. More than anything else, there is a widespread belief among White House officials that the Chamber is becoming a relic of the past — too tied to antiquated policy proposals and removed from the apex of political power it has historically enjoyed.

“I do think that the Chamber’s approach is somewhat old school,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior Obama adviser and the president’s liaison to the business community, told the Huffington Post. “I think that the strategy of running a negative ad campaign instead of having constructive dialogue seems wasteful, wasteful of an opportunity and wasteful of money.”

“We were hoping to have a constructive dialogue with the Chamber,” Jarrett added, “and it is regrettable that they decided to spend a huge amount of money launching this campaign.”
Such words shouldn’t be taken lightly. Over its 90-year history, the Chamber has proven to be a scale-tipping player in many major legislative battles. Widely regarded as a entryway to the business community, it is the object of intense courtship or fear, depending on the administration.

The Obama administration has been different. While the president gladly accepted the Chamber’s help on the stimulus and TARP, both he and his advisers have developed a business community outreach strategy that circumvents the organization.

Read more at The Huffington Post

Comments are closed.