Aspen Ideas, Final Installment: Where are the Business Republicans?

July 2nd, 2011 at 1:11 am

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.


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11 comments in reply to "Aspen Ideas, Final Installment: Where are the Business Republicans?"

  1. foosion says:

    Are businesses not lobbying for spending directed at them?

    Business has long been devoted to lowering labor costs. The current economic climate helps that goal by reducing employee’s bargaining power. We see lots of information that business has been getting a disproportionate share of the benefits from growth and that the effect has been extreme very recently.

    Growth in the abstract might help, while low labor costs are cash today.

    In addition, lower tax rates, all things being equal, are a big help to senior executives.

  2. Virgil Bierschwale says:

    The business leaders of today are concerned only with profit.
    As long as their company is profitable and they can enjoy the freedom of America, they are ok with that arrangement.

    Many are threatening to move offshore and here is my answer to them.

    Lately I’ve been listening to these CEO’s and others on CNBC.

    The message is all the same.

    We will take our companies to other countries if our demands are not met.

    Yet I hear nobody from our Government say the following, so I will say it for them.


    Move your company to another country.

    Pick any country.

    Here are the ground rules.

    None of your employees will be able to live and work in America.
    Your company will not be able to remain in America period, which means your stock will not be traded on our stock markets and you will not be incorporated in America.
    No product sold in America will utilize any of your products, whether as the finished good or as a component of the finished good.

    You have turned your back on the country that allowed you to become everything that you are.

    Trust me, other companies will step up to the plate after you are gone from America because they realize that Americans purchase more products/services than any other country.

    Oh yes, and you will not be issued a visa to visit America, so I hope you take all of your family members that want to go because Americans are going to build America back up and make it stronger than ever.

  3. Kevin Rica says:

    Weren’t any of the Aspen ideas the things that business really cares about?

    Things like:

    1. Tax breaks,

    2. Guest workers,

    3. Deregulating and restoring their right to dump arsenic in the river.

  4. Auros says:

    The “business Republicans” think that the Tea Party Republicans can win a bunch of fights they’ve wanted to win for decades, like destroying unions and dismantling Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and so on. They think that the collateral damage either is worthwhile, or will be prevented by caving Democrats. And I’m not 100% sure they’re wrong; the Dems may well cave on the crazy spending cuts, as we start to approach a risk of default.

  5. Auros says:

    Oh, and the business Republicans will be all in favor of infrastructure spending just as soon as control of said infrastructure is sold into the private sector in sweetheart deals. If they get their way, the entire network of interstates will turn into toll roads, and be maintained to the CATNAP standard (Cheapest Available Technology Narrowly Avoiding Prosecution) in order to shift operating costs from the new owners onto the rest of us.

  6. PeonInChief says:

    It’s quite simple. There haven’t been any of these “business Republicans” for decades. Even corporations that make actual things do so in other countries. Here they are simply rentiers, and have the interests thereof.

  7. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Someone please define ‘Republican’. I’m honestly not sure what it means any more.
    In 2000, I voted for Gore for Pres, and at the state level I voted almost straight GOP. I’d even written a campaign donation to a GOP candidate as late as 2003.

    By 2004, I had no idea what the word “Republican” really meant any more (and became a Deaniac).

    At this point, I’m honestly not sure what “Republican” means, other than: Karl Rove, Fox News, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Tea Party, Chamber of Commerce, Michelle Bachmann.

    Meanwhile, I’m not entirely clear what “Democrat” means, either.
    Nevertheless, the Dems appear to have at least one eloquent senator: Michel Bennet (CO) was interviewed at Financial Times this weak about the fundamental breakdown of American politics that we appear to be seeing. In a very quiet, thoughtful interview in which both Bennet and the reporter actually *listened* to one another and exchanged views in conversational tones (and complete, complex sentences) Bennet pointed out that the debt ceiling conversation is really about ‘will I pay my mortgage this month? will I pay the bills that I have accepted an obligation to pay?’

    I had not thought of the debt ceiling issue in that way before I saw the interview, and I was relieved that Bennet made it so simple. A mere seven minutes of video can be effective, if it is courteous and thoughtful.
    Any small business person could follow Bennet’s explanation easily, and the interview did not involve shouting or craziness. I think there is a reason this kind of interview is on display in a **business** publication. The quality of the information, and the engagement of both the senator and the interviewer, was excellent.

    In contrast, I don’t hear the GOP rhetoric address the debt ceiling issue in the way that Sen Bennet explained it.

    To hear the GOP talk about this issue, it seems to involve some kind of irritation about the two Obama daughters, along with hysteria about how ‘we need to cut taxes’. I conclude that they don’t like the president, but I have not heard them admit that the nation actually owes money, and this this is worrying.

    I would think this factor alone would concern the business community: is it possible that we have a political party (or two of them) in denial about the money spent on wars and other federal expenses?

    How do you spend money and then forget that you spent it?
    Does the GOP think that none of its members ever voted for appropriations?!
    Are they now claiming that paying the federal debts can happen on whatever terms the GOP decides to set…?
    Do they not comprehend that if you screw with your credit rating, you cost yourself dearly…?

    Because this is what the GOP looks like to me: it’s as if they are saying, “Debt? What debt? Obama is just using ‘the D word’ to scare everyone.”
    To me, this national conversation has *completely* jumped the shark.

    This bizarre talking-beyond-each-other puts me in mind of a friend who worked in mortgage lending some years ago.
    I once asked her what she did, and she said, “Well, some days I ignite divorce proceedings…”
    I wonder if we’re in the prelude to some ‘political divorce’ in this nation, and maybe the business community is feeling as conflicted as some of the rest of us.

    In my friends’ experiences in mortgage lending, some couples would come in for a refinance. During the discussions in her office, a wife (or husband) would be shocked to discover that they either didn’t qualify for a mortgage (or refi) — or if they did quality, they would have to pay a much higher interest rate — because one or the other had credit card balances for tens of thousands of dollars about which the other spouse had no information. (Whoops!)

    It’s as if we are watching Congressional poseurs who claim they knew nothing about the costs of three wars, nothing about the costs of the Bush (and Obama-extended) tax cuts, and now they are shocked — shocked!! — to learn they have high credit card balances.
    The adolescent tenor of this is disgusting.
    Do these people not understand that if you use a credit card, at some point you are supposed to pay off the balance…? Is this news to these people?

    Because the blame has become absolutely toxic.

    Are other people like myself ready to ‘divorce’ both political parties?
    I can’t handle the drama, the insolvency, the instability, and the nasty surprises. And I’m fed up with the constant preening and photo-ops.

    Life should not be this complicated.
    People should not be this flagrantly irresponsible.
    Maybe that makes me a scold, but I’d just like something simple that works.

    And I’d like more thoughtful, business-like conversations like the one between Sen Bennet and the FT reporter, where nobody shouts, both people listen, both are exploring complicated problems in a very straight-forward, practical way.
    I *loved* that FT interview.
    It was the one of the finest things that I saw all week long.
    It was such a breath of fresh air.
    As was JB’s courteous, level-headed conversation with Chris Hayes on ‘Last Word’ on Friday.

    So I’d like to thank JB for being so civil.

    At the moment, I’m not sure what a “Republican” is or what a “Democrat” is, but I’m really tired of crazy.
    Divorce is starting to look like my only sane option.

    • Neildsmith says:

      Yes – divorce is the only option. The political culture is broken beyond repair and beholden only to the very wealthy and large corporations which are, increasingly, international in scope. Neither group actually needs America except as a decent place to live. They are content to hide behind their bodyguards and live in their gated communities with nary a care about who lives outside. With all due respect to our intrepid blogger of course. Good intentions notwithstanding, the reality is that the deck is stacked against working people and has been for several decades. Were we liberals duped while the folks in congress sold us out to the highest contributor? It sure seems that way.

  8. Neildsmith says:

    I really think that so-called American businesses don’t so much care what happens in America anymore. All the action is in Asia. And anything that lowers US wages like a recession and high unemployment is good for business. The local retail/luxury/service economy might suffer from all this cutting, but they don’t have much clout in DC. They are also turning into expensive showrooms for online retailers like Amazon and won’t last much longer anyway.

  9. Foster Boondoggle says:

    Trying to interpret what’s going on in DC right now through some sort of policy lens is completely useless. The machinations of the GOP are devoted to exactly one thing, as Mitch McConnell has been honest enough to explain: making sure that Obama loses the 2012 election.

    If there really are any rational republicans out there, they are probably assuming that once a republican is President in 2013 they can “fix” whatever damage has been done by default. And in any case, their great and ever less taxed wealth will insulate them from its direst consequences.

  10. Michael says:

    Republicans hate any country with a black President — even ours.