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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.

By Ezra Klein  | September 29, 2010; 12:26 PM ET
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Haven't you heard? Sometimes, you have to destroy the village to save it.

Posted by: ciocia1 | September 29, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse


you assume that Demint style gridlock continues. oh silly Ezra.

In relation to healthcare you also forget that businesses didn't want THAT healthcare bill. They wanted a healthcare bill that contained their costs not handed coverage to millions of people that they had no self interest in. Sure could some of those insured in the 15 million Americans about to get medicaid someday work for businesses, sure. Would businesses see that and think that was worth the current price and what most of us admit the future price will be, NO.

Posted by: visionbrkr | September 29, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

--"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."--

Republicans should be Democrats. Sez Klein, the propagandist.

But that's the sort of nonsense 100+ years of dumbing down with collectivism will get you. In a country founded on the principle of limited government and supremacy of the individual in conducting his own life as seen fit, now we are treated to the endless exhortations that the only way through is to work with government.

What a disgrace.

Posted by: msoja | September 29, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

The other thing is that "business" is not monolithic. Lots of businesses, like lots of individuals, aren't really plugged in to what's going on, and get their information third or fourth-hand.

A small minority of high-income businesses care very much, and are (it would appear) getting exactly what they want from both parties.

Posted by: paul314 | September 29, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

It's questionable whether the Republican party really is the party of business. The old guard may have been but the tea party defnitely are not. If I had to sum them up in one sentence, I would say they are the anti-government party - except for social issues where they would like the government very active in enforcing social norms. Business isn't anti-government though; it just want government to work in its interest - and that changes all the time. Sometimes that's less government, sometimes that's more government, sometimes that's the same amount of government doing different things. Financial companies may not like all of Dodd Frank but they also know it could have been worse and they didn't mind being bailed out by TARP. No company would refuse a government bailout on principle and go under instead. Businesses like free trade (except for those that want to be protected) but free trade isn't the absense of trade laws, it's the creation of new laws and the WTO to support free trade. Republicans these days like feeding public frustration with the world and selling policies that sound good if you don't think about them too much. Mitt Romney had a career full of top-level business experience when he supported and implemented healthcare reform in Massachusetts. It made sense to hime then, now he can't run from it fast enough. I'd be very wary as a business blindly allying myself with the Republican party.

Posted by: keatnik | September 29, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

My guess is that most businesses, outside the oil and coal industries, are going to find the future pretty difficult and unsettling, as the planet heats up and the sea levels rise. They will have no one to blame but themselves.

And in the end it won't be so great for the oil and coal industries either.

Posted by: Mimikatz | September 29, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Yes, msoja, you are a disgrace. Bravo to your self-awareness (or simply parody).

Business, in general, are run by short-sighted greedy people concerned about their own bonuses and taxes.

Posted by: AZProgressive | September 29, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Business, like many Americans, loves gridlock. It minimizes the damage the political class can do to the country, and allows them to plan for the future without interference and uncertainty.

Posted by: INTJ | September 29, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

--"Business, in general, are run by short-sighted greedy people concerned about their own bonuses and taxes."--

Yeah, you shouldn't patronize any of them, anymore.

Posted by: msoja | September 29, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Newsflash Cherry ... businesses LOVE gridlock as it guards against executive or legislative overreach as we've unfortunately seen over the past 18 months ... it's only worked that way since about, say, the beginning of the republic ... If you had run so much as a raffle in your young life you might have known that instead of espousing your wishful ideological "hunches" ... get out of the Washington bubble my friend ... you might even learn something ...

Posted by: cunn9305 | September 29, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Newsflash cnnn9305: businesses do not love gridlock when they want to be actively wooed by states and cities with grants, infrastructure improvements (often simultaneously getting tax breaks for themselves). They want action, they want it fast, and they want it in their favor. Maybe you need to get out of whatever bubble you currently live in and figure that out.

Posted by: ciocia1 | September 29, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

--"[T]hey want to be actively wooed by states and cities with grants, infrastructure improvements"--

States and cities offering grants, infrastructure improvements, etc., do so with stolen money, and are as corrupt as any so called mafia.

In most cases, mayors and governors are out there on the veritable street corners *begging* businesses to help themselves out of the citizenry's pockets, to the extent that, indeedly do, businesses can almost expect it these days. But it definitely wasn't always so.

Chalk some of it up to chuckleheads like Klein, cheerfully pushing an empty poly-sci degree around in glib service to the behemoth state.

Posted by: msoja | September 30, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

"Business, in general, are run by short-sighted greedy people concerned about their own bonuses and taxes. "

This will come as news to many small business owners who often work long hours at smaller wages to get their business up and running. Or the owners who work to keep business open and jobs secured. This might qualify as the single dumbest comment here. As for whether business can afford the GOP, it's clear that they can't afford the Democrats- witness McDonald's statement that the health care bill might cause them to drop coverage. Well done.

Posted by: hawks596 | September 30, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

IF Reid wins-Boycott Vegas!
You get the Government you deserve!!!

Posted by: jpalm32 | September 30, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse


Despite your best efforts, the business community doesn't need JournoList to tell them where their interests lie. I think most people old enough to remember the last time was had a Dem president and a Republican congress recall that "gridlock" fondly.

Perhaps if you, or any of your friends, had ever made an honest dime doing something other than shill for your party of choice, you would understand that the only thing worse than gridlock is letting the Democrat Socialist Worker's Party continue to set policy in Washington.

Posted by: devildog_jim | September 30, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

please business is showing that they can not afford the progressive policies of this big government big spending administration.

How many CEO's have come out against the current economic policies?

Over taxed - Over regulated the GOP is the only hope for business.

Progressivism = Totalitarianism

Posted by: kitman3 | September 30, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Yes we should return to the policies that created this mess in the first place. Deficits soared under Reagan, Bush I and Bush II, and fell under Clinton. Now Obama wants to take a reasonable step, let the tax cuts on incomes over 250K expire - returning those rates to still historically low rates by the way, to help reduce deficits and create a minimally more even income distribution in this country, and all Republicans can do is complain about deficits and how progressive policies lead to totalitarianism. What? The GOP rails against deficits and then all it can ever offer is more budget busting tax cuts. What have republicans offered to help bring this country out of this mess that IT led us into? The only idea it can think of: more tax cuts for the wealthy. That's the GOP's only idea. Tax cuts are the answer to every problem.

Obama's policies, while not perfect, have brought us from the brink of a second great depression to an economy that is growing, albeit slowly and still painfully. Its Health Care Bill (no we shouldn't help 40 million people get health care - they should just rot in the street and die or sink into the depths of poverty due to out of control HC bills) is projected, by the NONPARTISAN CBO, to reduce the budget significantly over the next two decades and beyond and somehow this is totalitarianism? Yes people will say that forcing people to buy insurance is "totalitarianism" but we already require people who drive to get Auto insurance. And anyway, if people refuse to get insurance and then force the govt. to pay for it anyway when catastrophic events happen to them, then they're not being fair to their fellow Americans.

It seems that Republicans think that they can do it alone; that they could do all they do without their fellow Americans, without governments providing roads, public transportation, national defense, public education, etc etc. That the government protecting businesses from unfair business practices doesn't help other businesses. That they're in this alone and no one else has any influence on their lives or their successes. Well we all know there's no truth in that. It's a big world with a lot of people in it and we have to share some responsibility for each other because we can't go it alone, as much as some would like to pretend we can.

Posted by: kmgunder | September 30, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

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