You are hereWall Street Journal: No Deal: Chamber Chief Battles Obama

Wall Street Journal: No Deal: Chamber Chief Battles Obama


November 2, 2009- With President Barack Obama bidding to overhaul the health-care system, tighten bank oversight and make industries pay for their greenhouse-gas emissions, some trade-association chiefs have decided to compromise with the party in power.

Not Thomas Donohue. On many of Mr. Obama's priorities, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is working to defeat the administration—delighting some members, causing some to quit and sparking a furious reaction from the White House and left-wing activists. In the process, he has made the Chamber one of Mr. Obama's most visible opponents.

On climate change, Mr. Donohue's group says warmer temperatures could help by reducing deaths related to cold weather.

On health care, a Chamber ad says Democrats' approach will kill jobs and slow growth.

On financial regulation, one ad says the administration's plan will hurt small businesses, "even the small butcher"—a line that prompted Mr. Obama to denounce the Chamber from the presidential podium this month.

Now, Mr. Donohue aims to spend $20 million annually for several years advocating free-market policies such as open trade and less regulation, taking aim at much of the Democrats' agenda. The public-relations campaign is the biggest undertaking in the Chamber's 100-year history.

A question hanging over all this is whether Mr. Donohue's aggressive stance will work better than compromise. The Chamber, which says it has 300,000 dues-paying members, has become a political target in Washington's partisan atmosphere. Though Mr. Donohue has strong supporters, a vocal minority of companies, including Apple Inc. and Nike Inc., have recently quit the Chamber or its board.

"They've put Main Street businesses in a precarious place by taking a position that's not credible and doesn't allow them to shape legislation to their members' benefit," said James Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy Corp.

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