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November 26, 2012

Chamber Sidestepped in Obama Talks on Avoiding Fiscal Cliff

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce shouts “JOBS” with two-story-tall block letters strung on its building facing the White House.

That might be the closest the business trade association gets to President Barack Obama’s talks on skirting the fiscal cliff, a $607 billion combination of automatic spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect in January.

The chamber, which spent at least $50 million on political advertising backing Republican candidates who opposed Obama, is a bystander in the debate over Washington’s most critical post- election issue. It is being supplanted by other business groups such as Fix the Debt and the Partnership for New York City.

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“The chamber expects to have a seat at the table, but the table is set by people it just tried to politically kill,” Dennis Kelleher, president and chief executive officer of Better Markets, a New York-based nonprofit, said in an interview.

‘Strident and Vitriolic’

“There are business organizations that have not been as strident and vitriolic as the chamber” in working against Obama, “and those are the ones that will be the leading voices on any fiscal-cliff deal,” said Kelleher, whose group advocates for stricter financial regulation.

While the chamber promotes its own plan for reducing the U.S. budget deficit, including increased domestic energy production and building the Keystone XL pipeline, it hasn’t gained the administration’s attention.

“We have not been contacted by the White House,” Thomas J. Donohue, president of the chamber, told reporters at a press conference Nov. 13.

That isn’t to say the chamber won’t play a role. After a deal develops, the chamber will have influence in the House, where it has close ties with the Republican majority.

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The business leaders haven’t offered specifics and their debt-reduction messages could be muddled, Engler said in an interview Nov. 16 at the Business Roundtable’s offices near the Capitol in Washington.

“They’re focused on the federal deficit, which they understand requires entitlement reform. And they also believe that tax revenues are part of that solution,” Engler said. “Depending on who you talk to with Fix the Debt, you get different ratios.”

The chamber has 300,000 members and represents more than 3 million companies. It raised $147 million in 2011 — a 25 percent decline from $200 million in 2010, according to its most recent tax filings.

“We’ve still got a pretty damned good brand that plays very well,” Donohue said at his news conference. Still, the chamber’s ideas on tackling the deficit haven’t gained traction.

“To demand that your Christmas list, the energy package, be front and center when you don’t even have a seat at the table — that can only be viewed as benighted thinking,” Kelleher said.”

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Read full Businessweek Article here

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