By Ian Swanson - 01/13/10 12:58 AM EST
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue blasted a range of White House policies Tuesday as the business lobby’s fight with President Barack Obama bounced back into the spotlight.
Donohue’s remarks come two months after the White House and the Chamber were thought to be repairing their relationship. In early November, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met with the group’s board of directors for an off-the-record discussion.
He also faulted policymakers in Washington who “seemed to be focused on everything but the creation of jobs” and said the Chamber would be deeply involved in the 2010 elections, in which Democrats look set to lose seats in the House and Senate.
Donohue’s speech did not mention the $787 billion economic stimulus package the Chamber supported earlier this year, or the jobs bill approved by the House in December. The Senate is expected to pick up that legislation early in 2010.
Immediately after the speech, Donohue told reporters the tough talk was just business, and nothing personal.
“The Chamber has not had a problem with the White House,” he said. “We never make it personal.”
Donohue’s tough words for the new year follow a difficult 2009 characterized by a brutal relationship between the powerful business lobby and Obama’s White House. The two sides traded shots, with Obama denouncing the group over its opposition to creating a Consumer Financial Protection Agency in the wake of the financial crisis.
The Chamber took several bruises along the way, most notably when a series of high-profile companies left the organization because of its position on climate change. Those companies included Apple as well as PMN Resources and Exelon.
Separately, Nike quit the Chamber’s board of directors over the same issue, publicly complaining that the business group was not representing all of its members on the issue.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Donohue and Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president of government affairs, downplayed any differences with the White House at a press conference that followed Donohue’s speech.
“I don’t think it has mattered at all,” Josten said of the White House relationship. “There probably is not a day when somebody here is not visiting a Cabinet member or a Cabinet secretary isn’t here in the building.”
Josten also downplayed defections from the Chamber, stating that companies leave and enter the Chamber “every day.”
“So we have had four leave. We ended the year with a bigger budget than we had the year before — significantly. That ought to give you a better sense of answering that question.”
The speech instead was intended to highlight the Chamber’s efforts to work with government, business and labor groups to create at least 20 million jobs over the next 10 years. It was also meant to illustrate alternative policies that the business group believes could create economic growth.
The Chamber is taking those messages around the country in the next few weeks, starting with a trip on Wednesday by Donohue to Baton Rouge.
Donohue offered some kind words for administration policies during an interview on CNBC later on Tuesday. Asked if there was anything the government was doing that was supported by the Chamber, Donohue mentioned education and changes to immigration policy as well as last fall’s stimulus and the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector.
“We are a supporter of many of the things they are doing to get out of this economic mess,” he said.
In October, 2008, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) ripped the Chamber, claiming the business lobby was no longer nonpartisan and “has turned into a wing” of the GOP.
— Kevin Bogardus contributed to this article.