Feature

Are businesses turning on the Tea Party?

Disagreements over various strategies to attempt to defund ObamaCare are straining a once-strong political alliance

Some conservative Republicans have threatened to shutter the government or refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless ObamaCare is defunded. For weeks, those strategies have pitted GOP lawmakers against each other. And now, they may be giving Tea Party-leaning members another unlikely foe: Business groups.

Vocal conservatives, most prominently Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have been trying to stir up support within their caucus to try to block ObamaCare by refusing to pass a new budget, or possibly even by refusing to raise the nation's legal borrowing limit. The former would freeze all discretionary government spending, while the latter could be economically calamitous by forcing the government to default on its financial obligations.

That's bad news for business groups, particularly those representing small businesses, who fear that those actions have the potential to be severely damaging to the interests they represent.

From National Journal's Jill Lawrence:

For businesses, the stakes amid all this disruption are enormous. They are keenly interested in tax reform and immigration reform. They would like to see more federal spending on infrastructure and less on entitlements, and less federal regulation across the board. They don't like brinkmanship on budget and debt issues, or the more routine dysfunction that has stalled transportation and agriculture legislation important to both parties and much of the private sector. And as most business groups have made crystal clear, they really, really don't like the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare.

Yet there is little to no business support for the latest Tea Party-driven crusade to block any funding bill that includes money for the health-care law, even if it means the government would shut down when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. [National Journal]

That squeamishness toward the defunding movement is notable, since business interests played a key role in electing the very lawmakers who are now threatening to play this high-stakes game of chicken over the health-care law.

The Tea Party wave that swept Republicans to power in the House in 2010 was not merely a grassroots movement, but a larger effort backed by millions of dollars in business-friendly cash. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $34 million on independent expenditures in the 2010 elections. Paul received $1.25 million of support from that group, according to the Public Campaign Action Fund; Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has also endorsed the defunding plan, received $2 million.

Yet now, the Chamber isn't so keen on those members' strident rhetoric, with Bruce Josten, the group's executive vice president for government affairs, telling National Journal that these conservatives' ObamaCare plan is "not the politically astute thing to do."

Conservative pundits have also panned the idea because of the havoc it could wreak on the economy. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, for one, labeled it "really dumb."

If this sounds like a familiar story, that's because it is. We saw the same dynamic play out two years again in a past debt ceiling debate, when conservative members of Congress balked at raising the debt ceiling and threatened to allow the nation to default on its financial obligations. Then, business groups pleaded with conservative lawmakers to accept a compromise deal to avert a potential economic calamity.

"We've got a lot of new people pounding their chest," Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue said at a June 2011 event, adding a warning to conservative holdouts that if they didn't raise the debt ceiling, "We'll get rid of you."

Business groups again issued that same warning earlier this year in the last debt ceiling standoff, urging GOP lawmakers to accept a deal and avert a default.

"When you get down to defaulting on the debt, you have a very, very serious question: What will happen to interest rates, what will happen to our relationships around the world?" Donohue said in January. "It could really hurt the economy."

The latest debt ceiling threats, this time over ObamaCare, have only reopened the raw rift between those same business interests and the conservative members whom they helped propel to power. Maybe this time though, Donohue and others will make good on that threat to "get rid" of stonewalling Tea Partiers come 2014.

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