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Analysis: The GOP's fallout with big business is already mending

Shawn Zeller, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

Some of America’s most prominent corporations infuriated Republicans in Congress earlier this month when they protested a Georgia law setting state voting rules. The longtime alliance between the GOP and business seemed on the verge of cracking up. But when it comes to Democrats’ priority bills in Congress, the old allies are still on the same side.

Indeed, corporate America is joining Republicans in opposing both the House-passed voting rights measure, or HR 1, that is Democrats’ answer to the Georgia law, as well as President Joe Biden’s pending infrastructure bill.

While the spat over the Georgia law embarrassed Republicans, business has not joined Democrats in their proposed solution to that law’s election strictures — the voting rights, campaign finance and ethics bill, known as S 1 in the Senate, that Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer called a “must do” on April 13.

The same day, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, business’s most prominent advocate in Washington, announced that it “strongly opposes” the Democrats’ bill and that it was considering counting votes in favor of it against lawmakers in the group’s annual scorecard. Specifically, Jack Howard, the chamber’s senior vice president of government affairs, in a letter to senators said the bill would impose unacceptable new regulations on companies engaging in electioneering and even lobbying.

Howard echoed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s complaints that the bill would turn the bipartisan Federal Election Commission into a body run by the party of the president, and about a provision that would match small-dollar contributions sixfold with public funds.

Two weeks ago, the harsh words of corporate CEOs from Delta Air Lines to Coca-Cola for the Georgia elections law, buttressing Democrats’ case that the law aims to make it harder for minorities to vote, raised the prospect of a new alliance between corporate America and the Democratic Party. But Big Business’ GOP ties run deep. Howard, for one, was a legislative affairs aide to former President George W. Bush and previously for Bush’s father.

 

A review of the top officials guiding corporate America’s major trade associations in Washington finds that Howard has plenty of company. Almost all of the trade groups that spent the most on lobbying in 2020 are led by Republicans, or have top lobbyists who are, such as Joshua Bolten, the former George W. Bush chief of staff, who runs the Business Roundtable, and Jay Timmons, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers and former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

If companies have gone “woke,” they haven’t yet told their lobbyists. The Business Roundtable, which represents Fortune 500 chief executives, has recently blasted progressives’ push to weaken or eliminate the Senate filibuster. In a statement, the group said that would be “a major shift in the wrong direction” because it would reduce the need for bipartisan legislation and “could lead to unpredictable and unnecessarily erratic fluctuations in major policy.”

The roundtable also opposed Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen’s bid to establish a global minimum tax on corporations to combat competition among nations to lure businesses with low rates, and last month said it was against Biden’s infrastructure plan because its increase in the corporate tax rate would be “counterproductive to the goal of increasing economic growth and job creation.”

The roundtable said it was nonetheless hopeful an infrastructure package would move through Congress, given its support for such investment. By contrast, the National Federation of Independent Business made no such concession. Its president, Brad Close, said simply that it opposed Biden’s plan to raise taxes. Small firms “have been severely harmed by the pandemic and government shutdowns,” Close said, adding that the federation would “remain steadfast in opposing any tax hikes.”

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