Chamber offers support for Boehner’s tax bill

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has thrown its measured support behind Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) backup tax plan.

The nation's largest business lobby urged members Thursday to support the measure saying that while it has a number of problems with the bill, it does one thing — and only one thing — right: it avoids the "fiscal cliff."

"Maintaining economic growth is an absolute prerequisite to addressing our deficit and debt problems," wrote R. Bruce Josten, the group's chief lobbyist. "Going over the fiscal cliff and allowing the largest tax increase in our history would certainly severely hamper if not totally eliminate economic growth for the near term."

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While urging passage, the chamber listed a number of problems it has with the measure, saying that its "sole benefit" is that it avoids the immediate threat of the cliff. While it is a "viable option" in current conditions, it fails to address broader issues facing the nation and may actually hamper efforts to accomplish broad fiscal reforms in the future, the group warned.

"It does not address our excessive government spending, does not reform our unsustainable entitlement programs, and does not achieve fundamental comprehensive tax reform. Indeed, a case could be made that by eliminating the exigency brought on by the approaching cliff, that this bill makes it less likely that Congress and the administration will address these important issues in the near future," Josten said. "We would be much more at ease with our support for this bill, if it contained assurances and a mechanism to achieve these important long run goals."

The chamber also took issue with the fact that the plan would only make permanent tax cuts on income under $1 million a year, saying "we are not comfortable allowing tax increases on anyone in this environment." Nonetheless, the group is backing the proposal, saying, "politics requires compromise."

The endorsement, tepid though it may be, comes at a key time for Boehner, as he works to wrangle enough support from GOP members to pass the bill Thursday evening. Republican leaders had to agree to hold a separate vote on spending cuts to replace automatic sequestration cuts in an effort to secure votes for the tax plan, which would permanently extend tax cuts for income under $1 million a year.

A number of high-profile conservative groups have come out against the proposal. Heritage Action and Club for Growth are both urging members to oppose the bill, saying they will be considering it when putting together their annual scorecards for lawmakers.

Barney Keller, the spokesman for the Club for Growth, chided the Chamber's backing online, citing previous measures where the business group split with conservative activists.

"The Chamber of Commerce: Pro-TARP, Pro-Part D, Pro-Stimulus, Pro-ExIm Bank, and now…Pro-Plan B," he wrote in a tweet.

This story was updated at 3:25 p.m.