Chamber of Commerce open to 'fiscal cliff' deal that raises revenues

Leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday said they could accept a grand bargain on the deficit that would raise taxes by eliminating loopholes or deductions.

In exchange, the powerful group is demanding that expanded access to energy be part of a final deal. 

Bruce Josten, the group’s chief lobbyist, on Tuesday would not rule out Chamber support for closing specific tax loopholes or revenue-raisers in a deal to reduce the deficit and avoid the “fiscal cliff,” so long as entitlement cuts and regulatory changes are also in the mix.

He said that unlike Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Chamber is not categorically opposed to tax increases, and will not take a hard position until a deal is on the table. 

“Grover has a line in the sand ... you see other progressive groups drawing lines in the sand, saying no entitlement cuts,” Josten said. “We have not and do not draw lines in the sand.”

The stance on revenue seems to mirror that of House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerSudan sanctions spur intense lobbying OPINION | GOP's 7-year ObamaCare blood oath ends in failure A simple fix to encourage bipartisanship in the House MORE (R-Ohio), who opposes tax-rate increases but says he is open to revenue as part of pro-growth tax reform.

Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president and CEO, said the group, which bet heavily against President Obama and Senate Democrats in the 2012 campaign, wants a seat at the table as the fiscal-cliff negotiations begin.

“We want to be a player, we want to get a deal,” Donohue told reporters.

The Chamber has not yet been part of any direct conversations with the White House about the fiscal cliff, according to Donohue, and was not invited to the meeting that the president is holding Wednesday with corporate leaders.

Donohue said the Chamber’s clout in Washington remains as strong as ever.

“We have absolute access to what happens in the Congress,” Donohue said.

The Chamber said that tax reform needs to “broaden the base, lower rates, close loopholes and simplify compliance.” It is also demanding that the U.S. move to a territorial tax system and lower the corporate rates. 

This kind of tax reform could involve higher tax burdens for some businesses, even if many others would see them lowered.

The fiscal cliff refers to the $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January unless Congress acts to stop them. The Congressional Budget Office predicts the fiscal double-whammy would send the nation into recession.

Donohue said Congress should steer away from the fiscal cliff through a two-step process that puts in place a framework for addressing entitlements and tax reform on congressional committees next year.

“A big deal cannot be done by 10 people ... in a room,” Donohue said. 

The Chamber officials plan to make a vigorous push to get energy legislation wrapped into any fiscal-cliff agreement. 

Donohue said streamlining permitting, opening up more federal land to drilling and easing Environmental Protection Agency regulations would generate 

$2.5 trillion in tax revenue over the next 25 years. 

“So as lawmakers face very difficult decisions on spending and taxes, the appeal of American energy is only going to grow — and the Chamber is going to pull out all the stops in the coming weeks and months to see that it does,” he said. 

Karen Harbert, president of the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said the Chamber would be making specific recommendations on energy in the coming weeks. 

House Democrats have proposed replacing the spending-cut portion of the looming fiscal cliff with a mix of cuts and tax increases, including closing loopholes used by the largest five oil-and-gas companies.

Josten would not say whether the Chamber opposes that proposal. He and Donohue only said that real spending cuts would have to accompany any tax increases.

The Chamber spent heavily on the GOP’s failed bid to win the Senate this year, and was seen as supportive of Mitt Romney, though the group does not endorse or spend money in the presidential race. 

Donohue brushed off suggestions that Obama might seek retribution for the Chamber’s efforts to help Republican candidates this year, saying, “I am not worried about anybody coming after me.”

He was also defiant about the Chamber’s provocative “JOBS” signs, which hangs from the group’s headquarters across the street from the White House.

“It’s staying!” Donohue said.

— This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. and 7:01 p.m.