John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Chamber of Commerce Republican

Posted on February 21, 2012

I consider myself a Chamber of Commerce Republican.

By that I mean I generally support where the Chamber of Commerce is coming from when it comes to the functioning of the free market system.

And my politics tends to reflect that worldview.

According the Chamber’s own website, it all started:  “The idea of a national institution to represent the unified interests of U.S. business first took shape when President William Howard Taft, in a message to Congress on December 7, 1911, addressed the need for a "central organization in touch with associations and chambers of commerce throughout the country and able to keep purely American interests in a closer touch with different phases of commercial affairs."  Four months later, on April 22, 1912, President Taft's vision became a reality when a group of 700 delegates from various commercial and trade organizations came together to create a unified body of business interest that today is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

The Chamber of Commerce is a pragmatic institution.

It backed TARP because it didn’t want the global banking system to collapse.

It backed the auto bailout, because it didn’t want the American auto industry to collapse.

It supports more highway funding because the American business community understands that we can’t compete without a first class transportation system.

Some on the ideological right believe that the free market system operates best when it has no government interference.  And the Chamber of Commerce will default to that position except under the most dire circumstances.

But when a crisis hits, the Chamber has the ability to pivot.  It can be an advocate for government interference in the marketplace when the marketplace is going haywire.

And as we all know, the marketplace at times goes haywire.

The Chamber of Commerce is in the middle of an intellectual battle for the soul of the Republican Party, whether it knows it or not.

The GOP has increasingly trended towards ideological purity.  At the grassroots level, the party is being taken over by social conservatives and libertarians.  The “country-club” Republicans who tended to dominate local elections now find themselves on the outs.   Ideology all too often trumps practicality when it comes to public policy issues.

Raising the debt limit is but one example of this trend.

The Chamber of Commerce, while it may not be comfortable with our debt spiraling out of control, certainly doesn’t want our nation to default on its loans.

But now even Mitt Romney, the presumed only Chamber of Commerce Republican left in the race, is running ads against Rick Santorum’s routine votes to extend the debt limit.    He does that because the GOP base would rather we default on our obligations than extend our debt.  But if we default on our debt, the damage to the market economy would be substantial.

The Republican Party is becoming more evangelical in its economic philosophy.

It is shedding its pragmatism and in its place replacing it with a philosophical libertarianism that makes it awfully hard for public officials to do anything other than cut taxes and cut spending.

But the American business community, by and large, is not that ideological.  It understands that government has a role to play.  It understands that some government investment into basic science can yield results.  It understands that highway funding is important to future economic development.  It understands that you can’t privatize everything, but that public-private partnerships can work for everybody.

I say all of this because the Chamber of Commerce has been an active and influential player in the political process.  It has spent millions of dollars recruiting and supporting candidates that support the mission of the Chamber.

That support is more necessary than ever today.  The Republican Party needs to better reflect the pragmatism of the Chamber of Commerce.  That’s not crony capitalism.  That’s just basic common sense.