The Chamber of Commerce, as ThinkProgress has extensively documented, went to great lengths to elect Republicans in 2010, funding attack ads against several Democrats. The Chamber has also launched a series of broadsides against the Obama administration agenda, working with Republicans to undermine everything from the Affordable Care Act to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
This week, though, Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue may have ignited a civil war within the GOP. Many Tea Party freshman within the House Republican caucus have said that they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling, which would force the U.S. to default on its debt obligations. In fact, many said that raising the debt ceiling would be a “betrayal” of the platform that they ran on.
But Donohue sent a message those freshman during a speech before the Rotary Club of Atlanta: Fail to raise the debt ceiling and “we’ll get rid of you.” Today, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) appeared on Fox News, where he tore into Donohue for threatening House Republicans:
I found Tom Donahue’s comments outrageous, tone-deaf, totally establishment, and doesn’t understand at all where we’re at right now…If Tom Donahue is more comfortable having Nancy Pelosi as Speaker next year because he wants to get rid of all of us tea party, fiscally-conservative freshman who came here on a mission to save our kids from the debt we’re placing on their backs, then fine. He can have Nancy Pelosi as his Speaker.
A Chamber spokesman later said that Donohue was joking and that the comment was merely part of “pleasant and humorous banter going back and forth” between Donohue and his audience. But Walsh said during the interview that he wasn’t buying it. And many other GOP freshmen aren’t either.
“This is typical Washington, D.C., insider politics. The idea that head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would rather pick fight with the 87 freshmen than with Democrats, that’s pretty disappointing. But that’s what’s different about the freshman class. We don’t listen to folks inside the beltway, we listen to constituents across the country,” said freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). Freshman Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) added, “as far as I am concerned, [the Chamber's] leadership forfeited its position as a voice for small business when it became comfortably entrenched in Washington’s status quo.”
As the Center for American Progress’ Michael Linden and Michael Ettlinger have found, failing to raise the debt ceiling would have significant adverse impacts on the U.S. GDP. But it’s not only Republican freshman who have threatened to let the U.S. default. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said that failing to raise the debt ceiling wouldn’t have a negative impact on the economy, while House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said it was more important that the GOP receive concessions from Democrats than vote to raise the debt ceiling.