Business groups hail Senate flip

Business groups are licking their chops to work with an all-Republican Congress, believing they now have the chance to roll back years of frustrations. 

After the sweeping GOP victory on Tuesday, the business lobby is hoping Congress will extend dozens of expired tax breaks before a Republican Senate is even sworn in.

Come the new year, lobbyists are already hearing from GOP leaders in both chambers that they’ll have a better shot at getting a wide range of priorities to President Obama’s desk, including an authorization of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a repeal of the medical device tax and some crucial trade policies.

And they’re even starting to get their hopes up for the broadest successes, like an overhaul of the tax code, immigration reform and getting rid of parts of Obama’s healthcare law. 

“We believe all can unite around a pro-growth agenda that reforms the tax code and immigration system, and expands trade,” said John Engler, the president of the Business Roundtable. “Congress needs to roll up its sleeves and resolve these tough issues to make our businesses and country more competitive.”

The K Street chatter comes as Republicans like incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have made clear that they want to stack up governing successes ahead of the 2016 presidential election. On Wednesday, McConnell and Obama at least gave lip service to the idea of trying to work together next year at back-to-back press conferences. 

But business advocates also acknowledge that the big talk that comes immediately after an election doesn’t always translate into legislative achievements.

They are left to grapple with a host of questions leading into 2015. 

How much will Obama, now the last line of defense for Democrats, really be willing to compromise, especially when it comes to his signature achievements? The president made clear during his Wednesday news conference that there were likely some bills — like a repeal of ObamaCare’s individual mandate — that he could never sign.

Two years ahead of the next presidential election, both parties are still dealing with an electorate that feels left behind, even as the economy improves. But with the debt ceiling needing to be raised in 2015 and as they try to reach those voters, will Republicans find the sort of unity that’s often been lacking in the four years since the GOP took over the House?

And will either Democrats and Republicans, or both, eventually decide that enacting legislative compromises might not be their best strategy for 2016?

“The challenge before Republicans right now … is now they have to show the ability to govern,” said one financial industry lobbyist, predicting the GOP would seek to pass narrower bills that were more likely to escape a presidential veto. “I expect the focus will be on hitting singles and doubles rather than swinging for the fences.”

In some cases — like immigration, for instance — the business community’s priorities won’t necessarily line up with those of congressional Republicans. Lobbyists will also want to save the Export-Import Bank, which several powerful Republicans want to kill, when its charter expires next year. 

Top officials on both sides support issues like tax reform in the abstract, yet they find themselves at loggerheads when they drill down on the details. 

Powerhouses like the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers have called tax reform a top priority. But Democrats and Republicans aren’t on the same page when it comes to whether a revamped tax code should raise more revenue and whether it should include individuals. Many businesses pay taxes through the individual system, making reform there crucial for groups like the National Federation of Independent Business. 

“The political power for a comprehensive overhaul may not be there,” said David French of the National Retail Federation, another group pushing for reform.

Linda Dempsey of the manufacturers association said the midterms “open the door for concrete progress” on top trade and other business priorities that have been stalled for quite some time, like renewal of trade promotion authority. 

Senate Republicans are expected to make fast-track authority, which expired seven years ago, a target for passage early next year. Current Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), has made it clear that he’s no fan of giving the president that authority, and neither are many congressional Democrats. 

In addition to trade issues, McConnell and House GOP leaders have insisted they’ll seek changes to the healthcare law, potentially through the budget process known as reconciliation. 

Amanda Austin of the NFIB, which was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking to disband ObamaCare, said the group is clear-eyed about the chances to make changes to the law, given that reconciliation measures can still be vetoed and that the GOP doesn’t have the 60 votes in the Senate needed for repeal.

“The effort on full repeal of the healthcare law is going to be largely symbolic, and we are largely respectful of that,” Austin said. “Like our business members, we have to be practical.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and grassroots conservatives are pushing McConnell not to back down on repeal. But Austin said that the NFIB would view “smaller bites” at the Affordable Care Act a success, like increasing the threshold for a full-time worker under the law from 30 hours a week to 40 hours a week. 

Similarly, Republicans have long been critics of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, a central legislative achievement that McConnell on Wednesday dubbed “ObamaCare for banks.” But those in the financial industry eager to get out from under some of those new rules are not anticipating a GOP Senate would immediately try and scrap the entire law, though there are some hopes that previously bipartisan efforts to alter the law could get new life next year.

“There are some incremental yet meaningful things that I think the Senate and the House can work on that might well be palatable to the White House, but I don’t see any wholesale changes to Dodd-Frank,” said the financial lobbyist.

For other groups, the dethroning of a Democratic Senate also gives them even more of a shield against more progressive initiatives, at least on the federal level. The International Franchise Association, for instance, has fought hard against minimum wage increases, which did well on state ballots on Tuesday. 

“The American people have made it clear through this wave election that they expect Members of Congress to seek bipartisan solutions that will move our economy and country forward,” the group’s Steve Caldeira said in a statement.

Tags Harry Reid Mitch McConnell Ted Cruz

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