Rift widens between business groups and House GOP

Lobbying efforts by some of the nation’s biggest business groups are falling on deaf ears with House Republicans just a few years after the two worked in lockstep to craft the 2017 tax bill that delivered massive corporate tax cuts.

Even after every major business group in Washington, D.C., urged House Republicans to support the Senate-passed $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, only a handful of GOP lawmakers have said they would vote for the measure, according to The Hill’s tally.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in particular, has drawn public attacks from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other Republicans, revealing deep divisions between the two forces that were closely aligned for decades.

House Republican leaders kicked the Chamber off their coalition calls this week after the Chamber’s top lobbyist criticized them for whipping votes against the infrastructure bill.

“People care what their local Chambers of Commerce and business owners have to say, not the U.S. Chamber,” said Brett Horton, chief of staff to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). “If the U.S. Chamber sent me a meeting request right now, I wouldn’t even staff that meeting out to an intern, and I don’t see that changing.”

House GOP leaders are at odds with every major business group, including the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, over the infrastructure package. But their disagreement with the Chamber is personal.

Republicans were outraged when the Chamber, an organization often aligned with the GOP, endorsed nearly two dozen House Democrats in September 2020. At the time, McCarthy said the Chamber had “sold out” and boasted that he didn’t want the group’s endorsement.

McCarthy told reporters last week that the Chamber is no longer a political ally to Republicans. On Wednesday, he said in an interview with Punchbowl News that the Chamber wouldn’t have any influence if Republicans win back the House in the 2022 midterm elections.

“I didn’t even know the Chamber was around anymore,” McCarthy quipped.

Some corporate clients, alarmed by McCarthy’s recent comments, are considering ending their membership with the Chamber, according to three GOP lobbyists on K Street, who did not specify which companies were thinking of taking that step.

“The Chamber’s lack of influence is on display,” said Sam Geduldig, a lobbyist with close ties to House Republicans who served as a top aide to former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “It’s a visual representation of how far they’ve fallen. They used to be an important voice in Washington.”

The Chamber pushed back on its critics Wednesday, arguing it has put tremendous pressure on Congress to vote down Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation package funded by tax increases on corporate America and wealthy individuals, which Republicans also oppose.

The business group is targeting some of the Democrats it endorsed in the 2020 elections with ads urging the lawmakers to oppose the reconciliation bill.

“The Chamber has been a force on Capitol Hill, participating in 100s of meetings primarily with pro-business Democrats and Republicans and educating members on the impacts of tax increases since the beginning of the year and most recently to kill the entire reconciliation bill,” a Chamber spokesperson said in a statement.

Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the Chamber, criticized GOP leaders last week for opposing the infrastructure bill, telling reporters that a large number of House Republicans would support the legislation if not for the remarks from leadership.

The Chamber sent out a “key vote alert” to House members urging them to back the infrastructure bill. Along with other business groups, the Chamber argued that once the bill was signed into law, they would have more leverage to defeat Democrats’ reconciliation package.

Progressive lawmakers pledged to vote against the infrastructure bill last week to ensure they could use it as leverage over negotiations around the larger social spending bill.

House GOP leaders said they didn’t want to support the infrastructure bill in part because Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders said it should be paired with the reconciliation package.

This week, the Chamber reiterated its support for the infrastructure package but acknowledged that Democratic leaders have ensured that the two bills are linked.

“While the Chamber believes that passing infrastructure as a stand-alone bill prior to consideration of the reconciliation bill would have enhanced our position, that is no longer a realistic possibility,” Bradley wrote in a memo to members Monday.

Business groups’ all-out push to raise the federal debt limit also hasn’t swayed House Republicans, who nearly unanimously voted against Democrats’ bill to suspend the debt limit last week. But the groups still have influence with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who floated a deal to temporarily raise the debt ceiling Wednesday after the White House publicly met with corporate executives who warned of dire economic consequences if the U.S. were to default.

Historically one of the most influential groups on Capitol Hill, the Chamber tops all lobbying spenders nearly every year. The business group shelled out $29.6 million through the first half of the year to deploy 125 lobbyists to Capitol Hill, according to OpenSecrets. It also regularly spends millions of dollars on advertisements backing primarily GOP candidates.

Republican lawmakers began to distance themselves from the Chamber last Congress after the business group revamped its scorecard to promote bipartisanship, which resulted in high scores for moderate, swing-district Democrats.

They often point to the fact that Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) — the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee who played a key role in crafting the 2017 corporate tax cuts — finished last Congress with a lower Chamber voting score than multiple House Democrats as an example of how the organization has lost its way.

Other corporate interest groups haven’t received the same kind of criticism. But Republicans have privately and publicly groaned about corporate America’s increasing alignment with Democrats on issues such as immigration, voting rights, LGBT protections and racial justice. Corporations are weighing in on social issues more frequently amid activism from shareholders, customers and their own employees.

Republicans, meanwhile, have reshaped themselves in the image of former President Trump, moving themselves away from corporate America and closer to the new GOP base.

While Republican lawmakers still agree with major companies on lower taxes and fewer regulations, it’s other issues that have corporate lobbyists worried about how much influence they’ll have with a potential GOP-led Congress starting in 2023.

“The Republican Party has redefined itself on the fly here during the last five years, and it no longer shares as much common ground with the business community as it once did,” said Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), head of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, has vowed a day of “day of reckoning” for large companies that boycotted Georgia over the state Republicans’ restrictive voting law, implying that a GOP Congress would end “corporate welfare” in response.

McCarthy has told corporate lobbyists that he was upset by major companies’ decision to cut off PAC donations to the 147 Republicans, including McCarthy and Scalise, who objected to the 2020 Electoral College results.

The Chamber did not commit to cutting off donations to all GOP objectors.

He also said that a Republican House majority “will not forget” if phone companies and social media platforms turned over private records to the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Updated at 10:29 a.m.

Tags Boehner Donald Trump John Boehner Kevin Brady Kevin McCarthy Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Steve Scalise

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