Business to Boehner: Hit ’em hard

Business lobbyists are pumping their fists over Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) slap-down of conservative groups.

Executives at trade groups told The Hill they were pleasantly surprised by the strident remarks this week from the typically laid-back Speaker.  

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“You didn't hear all the applause across downtown?” said Dirk Van Dongen, president and CEO of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW). “Folks were absolutely pleased that he said it. … It needed to be said.” 

Boehner this week said conservative groups had “lost all credibility” by opposing the budget pact before it was even released. He said the activist organizations are “using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals.”

The rebuke was a clear shot at Heritage Action for America, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and other conservative groups that have proven adept at drumming up conservative opposition to legislation.

Business groups, whose frustration with the Tea Party boiled over during the government shutdown, said Boehner’s broadside was long overdue.

“I think we have all said it. The business community has been uniformly frustrated at how strident the ideological groups have been in defiance of reason,” said David French, senior vice president of government relations of the National Retail Federation.

Lobbyists said they are encouraged by the fact that the budget accord easily passed the lower chamber despite the opposition of outside groups. They hope it’s a sign that the influence of the conservative organizations is on the wane.

“Speaker Boehner said what a lot of us had been thinking for a long time, that these 'purity for profit' groups are taking advantage of well-meaning but politically naive members,” said one business group lobbyist.

The pushback by Boehner comes as trade groups are vowing to protect business-friendly candidates in the 2014 elections.

Business groups weighed in for Bradley Byrne in an Alabama special House election and saw him triumph in a Republican primary. Industry donors from Michigan have sought to garner support for a challenger to Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), one of the more prominent GOP rebels.

The conservative groups have often squared off with their industry counterparts in Washington, especially in recent battles over the debt ceiling and the government shutdown. They bristled at lobbyists echoing Boehner’s criticism this past week.

“Corporations are some of the biggest seekers of welfare in this country,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club for Growth. “Business groups are often on the side of bigger government and when they are, we will be on the opposite side of them. And where they're not, we will be on the same side.”

Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America, said business groups’ backing of Boehner shows that the budget agreement was flawed policy.

“The fact that K Street is applauding confirms that the deal was bad and Speaker Boehner's comments confirm conservatives' worst suspicions about Washington that the game is rigged,” Holler said.

In an MSNBC interview on Friday, Michael Needham, Heritage Action’s CEO, said the Speaker was trying to move past budget issues to find a path forward on immigration reform — which has been lobbied for heavily by business groups.

“This deal increases spending, this deal increases taxes. And that is bad for the county and that is what we want to be focused on,” Needham said. “The Speaker also wants to clear the way for immigration reform next year.” 

Business lobbyists have taken hope from the substantial House vote for the budget deal — 332-94, with 169 Republicans supporting the bill. They believe that represents a move back towards the center in the GOP caucus. 

“It was a very, very strong vote, especially when you contrast it with the debt ceiling and government shutdown votes. A significant shift,” Van Dongen said. “It seems that a number of members realized that ‘burn the place down’ is not popular with the American public.”  

The backing from many in his own party has strengthened Boehner who has had to deal with conservative insurgents on Capitol Hill over the past week.

“Boehner had a good week,” French said. “He is in a stronger position than he was a few weeks ago.”