Chamber chief: Congress's hard-liners living in ‘fantasyland’

Chamber chief: Congress's hard-liners living in ‘fantasyland’
© Greg Nash

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue on Friday criticized ideologues in both parties for pushing their leaders too far to political extremes.

Donohue said that those on both ends of the political spectrum are living in a policy "fantasyland" and have prevented Congress from moving forward on a wide array of policy initiatives ranging from passing comprehensive tax and immigration reform, to reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.

"The people on the far right and the far left who are living in a fantasyland when it comes to what we need to do ... [to make the] American people thrive," Donohue said at The Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington.

Donohue's colleague, Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, said at the forum that liberal groups like Credo and are using similar tactics to the Tea Party and the conservative House Freedom Caucus in order to drive Democrats to the left.

"They want to copy the Tea Party and push the Democratic Party even further left," Josten said.

Though reluctant to discuss the 2016 presidential candidates, Donohue and Josten each said that political outsiders like GOP presidential candidates Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former businesswoman Carly Fiorina have tapped into voters’ frustration with Washington and the political establishment.

"The candidacy of Mr. Trump ... is a reflection of what we’ve been saying for a long time: The American people are frustrated," Donohue said. "They’re frustrated with their government because their government has been avoiding the realities of what’s important to them."

He later described Trump as "an articulation of voters' frustration."

Josten said that Trump, Carson and Fiorina seemingly have "jumped in on the economic growth bandwagon."

"That's the same wagon we're on," Josten insisted.

He noted, however, that the angst with politics is also evident in the business community. He pointed to General Electric's (GE) recent announcement that it's looking to shift its headquarters from Connecticut, in part because of its frustration with the state's lawmakers.

"There's a high level of angst and some anger in the business community," he said. "We need to stop this culture in Washington where people look at us all and wonder what planet we’re from."

Both Donohue and Josten were optimistic about Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Wis.), who is expected to be elected House Speaker next week. Donohue said that Ryan would likely play a major role in the push for comprehensive tax and entitlement reform, though he noted success would be unlikely in an election year.

Donohue and Josten reiterated the Chamber's push to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, whose Congressional charter expired on June 30.

Conservative groups, like the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, have argued that the bank only uses its federally backed financing to support big businesses like Boeing and GE.

He said those major companies have "about 25,000 subcontractors," fueling small-business growth throughout the country.

He also brushed off against Tea Party groups' claims that the Chamber does little more than help big businesses ensure they'll receive "corporate welfare." He noted that the Chamber's membership renewal rate remains at an all-time high.

"Consider the source," Donohue said. "It doesn't bother me."