Saturday, November 20, 2010

Inviting Abuse

CNN's Ed Henry reports

After months of all-out political war with the nation's most powerful business lobby, President Obama appears to be on the verge of launching a dramatic peace offering to the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue.

Two sources familiar with the negotiations tell me that Obama was giving serious consideration to going into the lion's den and delivering a speech at a Dec. 2 jobs summit hosted by Donohue, whose organization just spent tens of millions of dollars trying to bring the President's agenda to a screeching halt by helping to elect more pro-business lawmakers in the midterm election.

"It was my impression they were looking very favorably on the invite," a senior Chamber official told me about the White House, and a senior administration official did not quibble with that account when I checked with the White House on Friday....

"This would show the President will engage people with different views," one senior Democratic strategist told me. "I think it would be a good thing."

In fact, top Democratic strategists tell me senior White House officials like David Axelrod have been working aggressively behind the scenes to help facilitate a chance for Obama to finally bury the hatchet with Donohue and the rest of the business community.

It was only weeks ago, on the eve of the election, that Obama was slamming the Chamber, alleging that the might be using illegal foreign money to influence the midterms - a charge the Chamber vehemently denied.

The Chamber, Henry charges, "vehemently denied" an 'allegation' made by the President. Slipping by theliberal media unnoticed, however, were the Center for American Progress reports documenting the manner in which the Chamber raises money from foreign corporations, the name and location of the foreign companies, the amount donated, and the partisan attack ads used with the money. (Thank you, Citizens United: aren't you glad you have the same freedom of speech as foreign corporations?) (video from msnbc via Something is not true simply because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it is; as Rachel Maddow explains below, "just printing something somebody says is not news; it's publicity."

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

While senior officials like Axelrod and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have publicly tried to downplay any tensions with the business community, I'm told by these Democratic strategists that the administration is privately more concerned than they're letting on about just how politically damaging the image of Obama being anti-business has been.

It was already reported this week that Geithner tried to start brokering a detente of sorts by appearing before the Chamber's board, with the senior official there telling me that the Treasury Secretary's visit was "refreshing" and a good start.

Beyond the political intrigue, the significance is that there has been a lot of pessimism in Washington about whether or not Obama can really get much done in 2011 with a Republican House and a shrunken Democratic majority in the Senate.

But there are signs that Obama may be able to form an unlikely alliance on some key issues with the Chamber of Commerce, which has a lot of sway with incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and could help each side bridge at least some of their differences on economic matters.

Jen Psaki, White House deputy communications director, told me that a lot of the tension with the Chamber was overblown anyway and she believes they will be able to work together on billions in new infrastructure spending the President is trying to secure, as well as Obama's push to double U.S. exports within five years - an idea that Chamber officials diplomatically note was actually first pushed by Donohue.

"The economic recovery is more important than political battles of the past," said Psaki. "There a number of issues that we can see eye to eye on."

Digby quips "think NAFTA, only with social security." That would be part of the agenda, but also this, as Henry continues:

A turning point in this often testy relationship may have been the President's trip earlier this month to Asia. Administration officials credit Donohue with flying to South Korea while Obama was there to try and help the President push along the pending free trade agreement (though it's still stalled), while Chamber officials credit Geithner with literally being available to Donohue at 3 a.m. during the trip to help iron out a sticking point.

During that trip, the President offered a curious argument:

Calling India a creator and not a poacher of US jobs, Obama said the relationship between the countries had evolved to a stage where India was "creating jobs, growth, and higher living standards in both our countries."

According to The Economic Populist (from which the graph below, utilizing data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, is taken) "A working NBER paper, 'Estimating the Impact of Trade and Offshoring on American Workers Using the Current Population Surveys' found a negative correlation between U.S. employment and offshore outsourcing to low wage countries."

Despite the President's apparent comfort with offshoring, the U.S. Chamber is getting ready to undermine Mr. Obama, if past is prologue:

Nevertheless, an Obama speech to Donohue's group would be a dramatic gesture because the White House and the Chamber have been at each other's throats for much of the past two years.

While Donohue supported the stimulus plan as well as the auto bailouts early on in the Obama administration, the cooperation pretty much stopped there. It "went off the rails," in the words of a senior Chamber official, over the President's health care reform.

It's always been known that the Chamber was fighting that plan tooth and nail, but nobody knew just how aggressively until this week, when Bloomberg reported that health insurers gave the Chamber a whopping $86.2 million to battle the plan - a staggering amount.

The Chamber spent tens of millions of dollars more to support Republicans - as well as some conservative Democrats - in the midterm election. Those efforts helped knock the President's party out of power in the House, and weakened his hand in the Senate.

And despite the happy talk now about working together on other issues, let's not forget that the Chamber will be glad to be part of any Republican effort on Capitol Hill to weaken the President's signature health care and Wall Street reform laws.

Digby maintains "I don't think Obama is dumb enough not to realize that they will stab him in the back politically again anyway," which suggests that the President knows he is figuratively being led to slaughter, and is happily acquiescing. True or not, nothing good for the American worker can come of this alliance forged in an economy in serious decline. And that is not only bad for the concept of good jobs in this nation, but also for Obama's presumed party of preference, "shellacked" a few weeks ago over alarm about the economy.

No comments:

Overwrought Reaction

Take the "L" and just move on.  162 Democrats joining Republicans to attack free speech and condemn a phrase that advocates one t...