The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently announced that it would be changing the criteria by which it grades and endorses congressional candidates to include efforts at bipartisanship. The Chamber’s change of heart ostensibly comes from its belief that legislative gridlock has gotten out of hands and is hurting American business. This comes on heels of the longest government shutdown in history, which the Chamber was vehemently opposed to. The reality, however, is that the Chamber’s feints toward bipartisanship are merely a strategy by which it plans to continue conducting business as usual.
Under the Chamber’s new system of endorsement, candidates will be graded on their “bipartisan engagement score” in addition to the old criteria such as their voting records and support for Chamber-endorsed bills. The Chamber claims that the change is designed to incentivize bipartisanship as a means of eliminating what it refers to as “crisis governing”.
While the Chamber may be calling for bipartisanship, it has not led by example. Over the last ten years the Chamber has all but eliminated its support for Democratic candidates while maintaining its support for Republicans at a fairly consistent rate. In 2016 the Chamber endorsed just five Democrats compared to 191 Republicans in 2018. All in all the Chamber spent close to 30$ million on federal elections in 2016. Not one dollar of that was spent on supporting Democratic candidates. Nevertheless, the Chamber wants you to believe that the recent era of legislative gridlock has caused it to reassess its rank partisanship and begin to partner more with Democratic lawmakers.
So what is the reason for all of this? In addition to the Chamber’s acknowledgment of the role of hyper partisanship in gridlock, this movement away from such blatant public partisanship is also due in part to the fact that certain core tenets of the modern Republican party have fallen out of step with the Chamber’s interests. The Chamber of Commerce and many more populist Republicans hold sharply divergent views on immigration, international trade, and government programs intended to help industry. The Chamber has also recently noted the global decline of democracy and widespread attacks on the free press.
Is this a step in the right direction? Top Democrats are not so sure:
“That’s a good instinct, but color me skeptical… It seems that still the highest priority is to help the rich and powerful no matter how divisive it is.”
-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
Even with increasing efforts of bipartisanship, the Chamber’s agenda remains clear: deregulate no matter the cost, letting corporations off the hook for any damage they cause to workers, families, consumers and the environment in the pursuit of profit. For instance, the Chamber has been adamantly opposed to any sort of legislation that would protect the environment. In the last several years the Chamber has lost 13 of it largest member companies because of its denialist stance on man-made climate change. Though Chamber president Thomas Donohue did announce that the chamber would support an increase in the fuel tax, which would be its first increase in 25 years, the organization has remained steadfast in its denial of climate change. The Chamber is similarly bullheaded when it comes to issues of labor protections, consumer safeguards and workplace equality measures like pay equity and family leave.
While the Chamber’s new stance on bipartisanship leaves room for optimism, it remains by no means an ally to progressives. Its methods may have changed, but its intentions have not. The Chamber’s interest still lie with America’s wealthy elite, and it remains one of the nation’s largest advocates of unfettered corporate control.