The US Chamber of Commerce's Multimillion-Dollar Attack Plan
The Chamber has been developing a carefully structured political strategy since the early 1970s, when Lewis Powell (who would later become a US Supreme Court justice) penned a famous memo advising the group on how to tackle what he believed to be the growing anti-business environment in the United States. To reclaim influence over the political and regulatory processes, and to shape public opinion in corporate America’s favor, he urged a more aggressive lobbying effort and called for the creation of a network of think tanks and research groups that could promote pro-business messages.
In recent years, as Powell’s suggestions have taken root, the Chamber has served as a sort of clearinghouse for megacorporations that want to shape policy without leaving any fingerprints. During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, for example, AHIP (the industry group representing health insurance companies) donated more than $100 million to the Chamber of Commerce, according to National Journal. The anonymity of the process allowed insurers to claim they were cooperating with the Obama administration’s attempts to improve efficiency, rein in costs and expand access, while in reality their dollars were hard at work drumming up opposition to reform.
Other donors have contributed money with the understanding that it would be used to push for their own priorities: an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, rollback of any number of environmental or financial regulations. Alan Grayson, a progressive Florida Congressman defeated in his 2010 re-election bid, says the general consensus among his Democratic colleagues is that the Chamber has become “a means for individual corporate entities to launder their sewer money,” giving donations in exchange for verbal commitments to advance favored policies.
The Chamber has been particularly tough on the markedly mild Dodd-Frank financial reforms. In early 2012, the group issued a “report card” for the bill, handing out a C- for its impact on US competitiveness and a C for its attempts to regulate the notorious derivatives markets. The report also expressed concern that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established as part of Dodd-Frank, “could limit access to credit in the marketplace for consumers and small businesses.”
So rigid have the Chamber’s positions become that last year it backed the Regulatory Accountability Act, a House bill that would impose an endless series of reviews before any new regulations could kick in. It also supported the REINS Act (for “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny”), which aims to prevent new regulations from being enacted unless they’re passed by both houses of Congress with no amendments—“which means never,” as Weissman dryly notes. It even opposes aggressive enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which allows companies that engage in bribery overseas to be prosecuted in the United States.
To advance its far-right agenda, the Chamber relies on a language of doublespeak, one that preaches American-as-apple-pie values while advocating policies that are anything but commonsensical and fair. Healthcare reform is thus mislabeled as a “job killer,” while the evisceration of safety-net programs like Social Security and Medicare becomes “entitlement reform.” In the aftermath of a fiscal collapse largely caused by lax regulations and obscene risk-taking by too-big-to-fail banks, such measures as strengthening regulations and restoring progressive taxation ought to be considered common-sense proposals. Yet the Chamber has repeatedly stymied such reforms, claiming they’re harmful to America’s economic well-being and arguing that cutting taxes and regulations even further is the way to restore the country’s fiscal health. The implicit assumption behind its language—analyzed by Occidental College politics professor Peter Dreier in his Cry Wolf Project—is that any attempt to make businesses pay their fair share is by definition “anti-business” and therefore “anti-American.”
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