The Washington Monthly has an interesting article by James Verini about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its president, Thomas Donohue. You already know that the chamber is a major player in Washington -- they spent $120 million on lobbying in 2009 and have pledged to drop $50 million on races this fall, mostly to elect Republicans. But the question one has to ask about the chamber is this: are they actually serving the interests of American business, or are they really just serving the interests of the Republican Party? There are certainly issues on which they depart from Republican orthodoxy, because big business does -- immigration and the Cuba embargo are two good examples. But there are also many issues where they seem to be acting contrary to the interests of business.
Take health care. You could make a very strong case that what's most in the interests of American companies is to get out of the health-care business -- they spend a lot of time and money dealing with their employees' health care, and because our system is by far the most expensive in the world, businesses spend much more on health care than their competitors in Canada, Japan, Germany, and every other country. Yet the chamber fought health-care reform with everything it had, opposing not just reform in general but the public option specifically. Why? It would be hard to make an argument that the public option somehow threatened businesses. Indeed, you could make a strong case that the best thing for business would be a single-payer system, which everyone of every ideological stripe acknowledges is the least expensive way to insure everyone.
So what was at the heart of the Chamber's opposition? It seems clear the answer is ideology. Which is seldom good for business. As Verini's piece details, the U.S. Chamber has often found itself at odds with local chambers of commerce over the fiercely ideological positions it has taken (like fueling climate-change denialism) and the hardball tactics it employs, sometimes against (usually Democratic) politicians who have perfectly good relationships with their local business communities. The piece is worth a read.
-- Paul Waldman