Obama turns up the heat on big business

The president’s speech to the Chamber of Commerce Feb. 7 was much more than the “thaw with business leaders” and “rebuilding ties with corporate America” that the Wall Street Journal and other conservative media have been clamoring for.

President Obama is pressing for the group to give more than just the verbal support it has thus far given to investment in rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure.

Although the Chamber poured tens of millions of dollars into the fight against health care reform and into delivering the House majority to Republicans, businesses that profit from full employment and a strong network of roads, highways, bridges, tunnels and mass transit are realizing the dangers of putting all their eggs into the GOP basket.

The president said he would cooperate with businesses on revamping the corporate tax code and moving ahead on trade deals but stood firm in his defense of the new restrictions on health insurance companies.

He called upon corporations to spend the unprecedented profits they are stockpiling to create jobs.

He told the Chamber of Commerce that “company executives have an obligation to hire our workers and pay decent wages and invest in the future of this nation.”

The labor movement and its allies are also stepping up their pressure on the Chamber of Commerce.

On infrastructure, for example, some are calling for the organization to “put its money where its mouth is.”

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $86 million in a failed attempt to defeat health reform. The Chamber spent $31 million in a successful campaign to elect more Republicans to Congress and the Chamber is planning to spend more than $50 million on congressional campaigns next year,” said OurFuture.org’s Bill Scher. “Will the Chamber do the same to support its own position for more infrastructure?”

Most labor unions are strongly opposed to the South Korea Trade Agreement, something administration officials and the Chamber are pushing for. The AFL-CIO says it will lead to further shifts of American jobs to plants overseas.

“A tiger doesn’t change its stripes, and the U.S. Chamber doesn’t stop working for the corporations that fund its bottom line,” said Christy Setzer, spokesperson for the union-backed U.S. Chamber Watch.

Labor’s understanding that the tiger doesn’t change its stripes did not stop Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO’s president, however, from issuing a rare joint statement with Thomas Donahue, the Chamber’s president. The two praised Obama’s call in his State of the Union message for greater spending on infrastructure projects.

The president, like his allies in the labor movement and elsewhere, appear to be under no illusions when it comes to dealing with the Chamber.

Obama continues to press big business even in those areas where he feels he cam make concessions.

In exchange for reductions in some corporate taxes, for example, he is demanding elimination of many deductions. The companies, of course, want the lower rates but not the fewer deductions.

The president understands that something rather big has to occur if the GOP-led House is going to support government moves to create jobs. The Chamber of Commerce, if it really got on board with supporting spending for infrastructure, would be that type of “something big.”

The president is saying to the Chamber and to many of the businesses it represents: “I can back you on some of what you want but you have to take this opportunity to show you are serious about infrastructure and job creation.” The president is trying to use to the nation’s advantage the stake much of the business community has in those same goals of revitalized infrastructure and full employment.

He knows the Chamber of Commerce cannot afford to appear, in the eyes of large sections of the business community it supposedly represents, to oppose jobs and infrastructure- something those same businesses need to survive.

Photo:  Whitehouse.gov



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is editor in chief at Peoplesworld.org. He started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.