You are hereRAW Story: Chamber of Commerce ‘takes both sides’ on economic stimulus

RAW Story: Chamber of Commerce ‘takes both sides’ on economic stimulus

SPIN METER: Government austerity or bailouts? US Chamber of Commerce takes both sides

October 4, 2010- During the worst of the economic crisis, the nation's most powerful business lobby pleaded with Congress to prop up financial institutions and stimulate the economy with hundreds of billions of dollars in borrowed money.

"Make no mistake: When the aftermath of congressional inaction becomes clear, Americans will not tolerate those who stood by and let the calamity happen," wrote Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's vice president in September 2008, who at the time pressed lawmakers before their vote on a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street.

A few months later, Congress faced a similar reckoning — whether to pass an $814 billion economic stimulus package consisting of about one-third tax breaks and two-thirds additional government spending. Again, Josten wrote to lawmakers: "The global economy is in uncharted and dangerous waters and inaction from Washington is not an option."


EDITOR'S NOTE — An occasional look behind the rhetoric of political campaigns


Fast forward to the present. The chamber is now spending millions of dollars on ads trying to elect candidates whose campaigns are based on opposing the very bank rescue and stimulus law it once supported.

Lawmakers who voted with the chamber on the two crisis-era measures are now getting the back of its hand: Sen. Barbara Boxer in California, and Reps. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania, Paul Hodes in New Hampshire and Brad Ellsworth in Indiana.

"What they want is one of their own," said Sestak, now running for the Senate against former Rep. Pat Toomey, who denounced bank rescue and the economic stimulus as ill-advised government interventions. "So back when we were salvaging the nation, that was then."

The chamber's strategy underscores an all-or-nothing approach to lobbying, where partial support of their agenda is not sufficient and where recent clashes trump past agreements.

Since the bank bailout and stimulus program, the four Democrats have taken stances contrary to what the business lobby wanted. They voted for President Barack Obama's health care initiative and a consumer financial protection bureau. They supported reducing greenhouse gases and backed bills to make organizations like the chamber disclose donors who help pay for political ads.

"The chamber looks at an endorsement on a broad range of issues, certainly not just one or two issues alone," said J.P. Fielder, a chamber spokesman. "Looking at this so narrowly is like looking at the wrong end of a telescope. We need to consider all the factors that impact businesses."



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