The U.S. Chamber of Commerce likes to portray itself as a defender of all businesses, big and small. During the debate over financial regulatory reform, the Chamber continually ginned up concern about the bill’s impact on small businesses, falsely claiming over and over that the new regulations would restrict credit for butchers and florists. The Chamber even flew in a host of small business owners to lobby lawmakers on the matter.
Today, meanwhile, the Chamber is hosting an event entitled “Behind the Curtain: The Health Care Law’s Impact on Small Business,” which the Chamber claims is aimed at “placing the spotlight directly on the entrepreneurs who will feel the financial and regulatory impact of the health care law – some of the people who constitute the nation’s real economic engine, who are the key to creating enterprise and lifting the U.S. out of the recession.”
But while it is content to use small businesses as a shield against legislation that it doesn’t like, the Chamber’s recent actions show that it isn’t really interested in helping those businesses get through the recession. After all, the Senate last week cleared a procedural hurdle towards passage of a bill providing $30 billion for small businesses lending. But as Bloomberg News noted, while the debate was going on, the Chamber was “mostly silent”:
Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist for the Chamber, Washington’s biggest business advocacy group, wrote lawmakers on July 23 saying it supports the underlying tax and Small Business Administration provisions. The letter doesn’t mention the $30 billion fund, and the Chamber doesn’t have a position on it, spokesman J.P. Fielder said in an e-mail. He declined to say why.
The lack of support coming from the Chamber has small businesses riled up. “Credit [for small businesses] is a terrible problem,” said Fred Knapp, president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce (which has no relation to the U.S. Chamber). “These groups are tied to big businesses. That’s all this is about.”
As James Verini pointed out in the Washington Monthly, far from being a defender of all businesses, the Chamber is “beholden to a cadre of multinationals whose interests are often inimical to those of small business. In 2008, a third of its revenues came from just nineteen companies.” Indeed, on everything from health care to regulatory reform, the Chamber took the position that favored huge corporations and kept small businesses at a competitive disadvantage relative to the big guys.
In another example, the Chamber is currently lobbying the Senate against Democratic plans to close tax loopholes that multinational corporations use to dodge the corporate income tax. Such tax evasion shifts the tax burden back onto small businesses and individuals who pay the full statutory tax rate, but the Chamber is siding with the tax dodging multinationals.
As my colleague Brad Johnson has documented, the Chamber’s Board of Directors is also “overwhelmingly Republican, having contributed six to one to conservative over liberal politicians.” And it’s telling that the Chamber refused to weigh in on the one piece of legislation currently before the Congress that could provide some aid to ailing small businesses, but which Republicans have been obstructing.