Can business afford the Republican Party?
Steve Pearlstein's column wondering whether business can afford a Senate dominated by Jim DeMint and his allies reminded me of a distinction that doesn't get made often enough: Business don't like policy uncertainty. But they don't like policy inadequacy, either.
A GOP-dominated Senate where gridlock rules the day* is not going to reduce policy uncertainty. As Pearlstein argues, it'll just shift it to new realms. The possibility of the government getting shut down over a budget dispute will be bad for certainty. A rise in paralysis and acrimony is not going to comfort a bond market waiting to see whether we can make difficult decisions on spending cuts and tax hikes. A shift favoring regulatory action rather than legislative efforts might not be preferable for businesses. More foot-dragging for nominations and everyday bills is not going to help sectors that need the government agencies they deal with to be staffed and funded.
But then there's the other problem: policy inadequacy. There are things the private sector needs. An energy bill that lays out our national priorities. Policies that will bring down the national debt. Improvements in our education system and our surface infrastructure. If action on those fronts grinds to a halt, doing business in America is going to get a lot worse.
What business should want, in theory, is a Republican Party that advocates for its interests. That is to say, a Republican Party willing to send 20 senators and 50 House members to the table when Democrats are writing a huge health-care bill that has the votes to pass. The Democrats would've given anything for some votes from across the aisle, and whatever it is that business wanted, it could've gotten. But since the Republican Party wasn't interested in governing or negotiating, business didn't have that leverage. Insofar as the GOP is the party of business, they failed their constituents: They neither stopped the bill nor -- with the exception of Olympia Snowe -- fully participated in the process behind it. Or take the stimulus bill, which major business groups like the Chamber of Commerce supported, but which the Republicans abandoned.
My hunch is that business doesn't really care about this for two reasons. The first is that the Democrats aren't anti-business and they in fact spent a lot of time talking to representatives from the affected industries and reshaping the bill to address their concerns. The second is that the people actually representing business interests in Washington are movement Republicans rather than disinterested CEOs, and they're allied with the interests of the Republican Party in much the way that organized labor is allied with the interests of the Democratic Party. But what that means is that the GOP isn't going to come in and do what business needs them to do, but instead what their base and electoral interests tell them to do. And so uncertainty and inadequacy will rule the day.
* That sentence originally quoted Jim DeMint telling Business Week that he's looking to create total gridlock, but Business Week has retracted that quote.
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