US Chamber Of Commerce's Tom Donohue Makes It Clear: This Is A Grudge Match

The US Chamber of Commerce is on a mission, and Tom Donohue wastes no time in throwing the gauntlet. The bottom line: There is no upper limit on what they will spend to defeat Democrats and in particular, Barack Obama.

Donohue sat down for an interview with BusinessWeek after Tuesday's elections and laid it on the line:

Now, with his strategy having proven effective, Donohue and the chamber are plotting their post-election agenda. A week before the House flipped, R. Bruce Josten, the chamber's silver-maned, Benson & Hedges-smoking chief lobbyist and Mr. Fixit, said that a lot would be unclear after the election, even if the Republicans triumphed. There would be struggles over congressional committee chairmanships and lame-duck shenanigans. But he was certain of this much: The President's change agenda was history. There would be nothing like the Affordable Health Choices Act, no more Keynesian spending. "He is going to have to operate differently," Josten said.

Josten did offer a consolation prize: He had suggestions about ways the newly humbled White House could cut some deals with the GOP and still find some legislative victories. As he noted, the White House is already working on a trade agreement with South Korea that could be announced as early as next week. That may not endear the President to his union supporters, but the chamber will applaud.

The chamber's chief lobbyist also recommended that the Administration put its support behind a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts. The White House signaled just before the election that the matter would be considered carefully. Josten would also like to see a corporate tax cut and increased federal spending on infrastructure, which would also be a boon to the private sector. The White House has signaled it will mull these over as well.

Donohue says the chamber intends to challenge many of the regulations in the health-care and financial reform acts. It has already sued to keep the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and to block a provision that would make it easier for shareholders to get their own candidates on corporate boards. "You may not know we have our own law firm," he says proudly. He is still trying not to gloat. "It's a public-interest law firm. We sue the federal government of the United States 150 times a year on regulatory issues." He adds: "By the way, we win a lot."

And it's entirely personal:

Along the way, Donohue became friendly with a number of U.S. Presidents. He had a long relationship with George H.W. Bush, whom he found "very interesting." He's even more ebullient discussing Bush's successor: "I think Clinton was a fascinating guy," he chuckles. "You could always do a deal with Clinton—as long as you watched out for the deal he did with the next guy." Of George W. Bush, he says: "I liked Bush Two as a person. I thought he showed a lot of courage in difficult times." He leaves it at that.

The warmth drains out of Donohue's voice entirely when he talks about Obama. The chamber supported the President's $787 billion stimulus package. But Donohue took it personally when the Administration banned lobbyists in the White House. "I think what we do is highly honorable," he says.

It wasn't long before the chamber and the White House were locked in disagreement. Ever the shrewd Washington operator, Donohue employs a classic tactic when he explains why he opposed nearly every major legislative step the Administration took: He was all for health-care and Wall Street reform, he says. He just didn't like the proposals the Democratic-controlled Congress came up with.

Compare the tone that list of demands in the first quote with the tone of Judson Phillips' Tea Party Nation extortion letter to Mitch McConnell. Doesn't it sound similar? Pretty thuggish?

Donohue and the Tea Party are letting us know we're all their hostages now.


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