One of the things you do at a gathering like the Aspen Ideas Festival is rub shoulders with people from different walks of life. In interacting with some pretty elevated folks from the business community, I was struck by an important question: where are the business Republicans in the current dysfunctional fiscal debate?
In the past, you could count on a particular brand of Republican for support in some important areas of economic policy. Not stuff like unemployment insurance or the minimum wage, of course, and not progressive taxation or regulation. But on things like infrastructure, education, investment in R&D, sectoral subsidies, like for clean energy or high speed rail, you could often get help from industry lobbies and even the Chamber of Commerce.
For example, when I worked for the White House, I recall getting support from the Chamber for an important tax credit that incentivized investment in clean energy manufacturing.
And you should certainly be able to count on the business and especially the banking lobbies to pressure the Congress not to flirt with default.
I heard a lot of support for all of the above from business folks here at the Ideas Festival, and I know that some of these folks are influential Republicans.
But where are these powerful conservative forces on these critical debates of the day? Maybe there’s action behind the scenes but from what I see, they’re missing in action. Where’s Wall St. on the debt ceiling? Where’s the Chamber?
Where are the titans of industry? Are they not aware of what the Ryan/Republican budget does to infrastructure spending, R&D, or education?
These groups stand to lose a lot from such disinvestment in the economy, not to mention default. Historically, they would be telling the members of Congress they support to get in line and do the right thing. But that doesn’t seem to be happening and it’s one reason there’s such an extreme lack of balance right now.
The business Republicans appear to be capitulating to the Tea Party’s message of cutting spending without regard for its economic impact on growth. But from what I heard out here, they’re just as nervous about those impacts as I am.
If that’s true, then they need to start putting some serious pressure on the political system. They’ve got a lot of weight and they’ve never been shy about throwing it around. Now’s not the time to start.