In this week’s column, Washington Examiner lobbyist editor Tim Carney* explains why your assumptions about the attitude of big business toward big government are all wrong:
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., had the most conservative voting record in 2008 according to the American Conservative Union (ACU), and was a “taxpayer hero” according to the National Taxpayer’s Union (NTU), but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says his 2008 record was less pro-business than Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton.
Similarly, Texas libertarian GOPer Rep. Ron Paul—the most steadfast congressional opponent of regulation, taxation, and any sort of government intervention in business—scored lower than 90% of Democrats last year on the Chamber’s scorecard.
Liberal Democrats often accuse conservative Republicans of being pawns for Big Business, but the 2008 scorecard for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the largest lobbying organisation in the country and the official Washington voice of business—provides convincing evidence to the contrary. In fact, the policy agenda of big business can be very different from that of limited-government conservatives and libertarians.
Four Republican senators failed to earn the Chamber’s “Spirit of Enterprise Award” (earned for scoring 70% or above): DeMint, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jon Kyl of Arizona, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
These are among the most fiscally conservative, pro-limited government members of the upper chamber—which is precisely their error, in the eyes of the Chamber. The heroes of the small government cause are the goats of the big business cause.
DeMint, for instance, picked up the highest score last year from NTU, and Kyl and Inhofe were close behind—all three winning NTU’s “Taxpayer Friend” awards.
Similarly, DeMint picked up the only perfect Senate score from ACU, while Kyl and Inhofe tied for second with 96%.
With which votes did these GOP lawmakers earn Chamber scorn? Kyl, Inhofe, DeMint, and Sessions were four of the eight senators to vote Nay July 31 on the “College Opportunity and Affordability Act,” creating $34 million in new subsidies for colleges, probably driving up tuition at taxpayers’ expense rather than making college more affordable.
These four also voted against the Chamber’s position by opposing President George W. Bush’s February 2008 stimulus bill that sent checks to taxpayers. The “rebates” were one-time tax credits that excluded higher-income earners but included some people with no income tax liability.
Conservatives instead proposed long-term, broad-based tax cuts—for example, making permanent the 2001 tax cuts set to expire in 2011—as opposed to one-time stunts turning the IRS into a welfare agency.
And, of course, DeMint, Inhofe, and Sessions upset the Chamber by voting against the massive $700 billion Wall Street bailout—which has since grown into a Detroit bailout, and a tool which the Obama administration is using to tell banks and carmakers how to run their businesses.
The Great Wall Street Bailout will prove someday to be the crucial victory for government control over the economy, and for voting Nay on a rushed vote to pass this unprecedented measure, some conservative lawmakers were scorned by the business lobby.
Sessions, Inhofe, and Kyl also voted last April against a package of tax deductions for “renewable energy”—effectively corporate welfare for unprofitable technologies.
On the House side, it’s a similar picture. The Republican with the lowest Chamber score was Paul. Even Rep. Barney Frank, D-MA, who wants to regulate everything except Fannie Mae, scored 14 points higher than Paul on the Chamber’s scorecard.
Eleven House Republicans failed to win the Chamber’s award—a mixture of libertarian/conservative members like Paul and liberal members like then-Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-MD.
All but Gilchrest in this group of “business unfriendly” Republicans earned a black mark from the Chamber for voting against the Wall Street bailout twice. And conservative Republicans Paul, Ted Poe of Texas, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Jack Kingston of Georgia, Paul Broun of Georgia, and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin voted against the college aid bill, while seven of the 11 voted against Bush’s stimulus.
In June, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill drafted by the Chamber in coordination with advocates for the disabled that expanded the definition of “disability.” At the time, the conservative Heritage Foundation wrote, “the House bill is supported by some business lobbies (representing mostly larger corporations), it is small businesses that are likely to suffer disproportionately.”
Two other House votes that pit conservatives against the Chamber: An authorization bill for NASA, outspending the Bush administration’s funding request by 15%,, and a bill to beef up copyright enforcement and create a copyright czar.
Advocates of bigger government like to assail their opponents as pawns of big business. The Chamber’s shunning of DeMint and Paul will hopefully help put that lie to rest.