White House and U.S. Chamber break from fighting and note common ground

The White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took a break from their war of words over the economy last week in a friendly exchange of letters that sought to accentuate areas of agreement.

Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue prompted the cease-fire, praising President Barack Obama in his letter for pledging in his State of the Union Address to work together to solve the nation’s problems. Obama responded by noting the Chamber’s influence and pointing out areas where they shared common goals.

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The warming of the frosty relationship was brief. By Tuesday, the business lobby was back to blasting the administration, this time over its $3.8 trillion budget request. The Chamber said it would hurt an already weakened economy.

But the letters offered hints of where the two could work together.

 “You hit the nail on the head last night when you said that in times of adversity, Americans of all backgrounds and political persuasions come together to find common ground and tackle big challenges,” Donohue wrote in a letter responding to the speech.

Donohue said the biggest challenge was the need to create more jobs. “You made that clear during your State of the Union address, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauds you for it.”


Two weeks earlier, Donohue blasted the president for proposing tax increases and new regulations that the Chamber argued would strap an already ailing economy.

In the recent letter, though, Donohue stressed the Chamber’s support for several of the administration’s priorities: doubling exports in five years, expanding nuclear power and offshore drilling, improving worker retraining and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.

On Monday, the president responded in kind, in what could be seen as an acknowledgement of the political power of the Chamber, which spent a whopping $124 million on lobbying and political advertising in 2009, by far the most of any single group.

In a letter about twice the length of Donohue’s, Obama said he “very much” appreciated the Chamber’s offer to cooperate.

 “Dear Tom, It was great to receive your kind comments on the State of Union,” the letter opens.

More substantively, the president said the administration and the Chamber should work together in support of tax credits to small businesses and “to provide incentives for all businesses, big and small, to jumpstart capital investments” through changes to tax depreciation rules.

The president also encouraged the Chamber to get behind additional support for drilling and nuclear power, but also renewable energy and other clean-energy efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil and create jobs. And he thanked the Chamber for its support for the stimulus package as he also acknowledged that the business group and the White House would part ways on occasion.

“Understanding that we may not always agree on every issue or how to achieve the goals we all share, let us build on the progress we’ve seen and work together wherever possible to build an economy in which businesses and jobs are growing,” Obama wrote.

By Monday, the Chamber and the White House had begun to part ways again.

Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten said the president’s budget request “will balloon the deficit, dramatically increase taxes in a weak economy and undermine American job creation.”

“This budget is a surefire way to slow economic growth, increase unemployment and make U.S. companies less competitive around the globe,” Josten said in a statement.

This article was updated at 8:23 p.m.