I have a good friend who is extremely active in local chamber of commerce activities. He may be the best informed person I know in terms of strictly local issues, from water development to local government service consolidation. In turn, he often asks my opinion about national politics, and when I tell him what the “pro-business party,” the GOP, is up to, he often looks at me as though I’m speaking Martian.
It seems to be a growing phenomenon. The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman has written a very interesting article about the buyer’s remorse a lot of business folk are expressing as the Republican House they worked so hard and raised so much money to create and to empower turns its back on the practical needs of the business community to pursue its various ideological crusades:
Even though money for major road and bridge projects is set to run out this weekend, House Republican leaders have struggled all week to round up the votes from recalcitrant conservatives simply to extend it for 90 or even 60 days. A longer-term transportation bill that contractors and the chamber say is vital to the recovery of the construction industry appears hopelessly stalled over costs.
At the same time, House conservatives are pressing to allow the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which has financed exports since the Depression, to run out of lending authority within weeks. The bank faces the possibility of shutting its doors completely by the end of May, when its legal authorization expires.
And a host of routine business tax breaks — from wind energy subsidies to research and development tax credits — cannot be passed because of Republican insistence that they be paid for with spending cuts.
It’s not just Democrats, you see, who understand that government has a pretty important role in creating and maintaining the infrastructure for private-sector economic development. Business folk understand it, too, particularly when highway funds run out, and they don’t tend to have a lot of patience for pointy-headed libertarians who like to debate the desirability of privately operated sidewalks.
Business people had fair warning that their marriage of convenience with a vengefully right-bent GOP might not have a very happy ending. In the July/August 2010 issue of the Washington Monthly, James Verini wrote a long profile of U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donahue, generally credited with forging the latest pact of steel between big business and the GOP, that illustrated the risks involved and the power-hunger that drove the alliance.
With the same people raising the same vast amounts of money for the same GOP candidates this year, you do have to wonder if the business interests constantly being hit up to finance Tea Party fantasies in action will ever revolt. As Verini noted, Apple and other big corporations severed their ties with the U.S. Chamber in 2009 when it joined the chorus of climate change deniers. Now that sort of ideology has become the staid orthodoxy of the GOP. And my friend in the local chamber of commerce can’t figure out when craziness became good for business.