Where’s Corporate America?


Here’s what I don’t understand about either the politics or the substance of this bailout business: Where’s corporate America? Suppose Democrats were to propose raising the minimum wage. Well, lots of business groups would object. Loudly. They’d say raising the minimum wage would cost jobs and hurt the economy. And when asked to jump, House Republicans would say “how high?” After the Democrats took the majority in 2007, they scheduled an early vote on a minimum wage increase. Since increasing the minimum wage is popular, and since the bill was bound to pass anyway, lots of Republicans defected. Still, 116 Republicans stuck with their leadership and cast unpopular “no” votes.

And yet even serious opponents of minimum wage increases never maintain that the sort of increase progressives were pushing would have anything resembling the sort of catastrophic consequences that Hank Paulson, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, and the vast majority of elite opinion says the failure to pass a rescue package would have. So where’s corporate America? Where are the business leaders whose firms aren’t in the finance-and-real estate sector wherein the problem originated? It seems to me that the interests of ExxonMobil, GE, Microsoft, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Proctor & Gamble, Chevron, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, and Google (the ten largest non-financial firms in terms of market capitalization as of April) would all be hurt pretty seriously by the sort of long, deep recession that people are warning about. It also seems to me that if the CEOs of those and other major companies companies — especially if joined by the major industry groups in DC — were making public statements and working the phones behind the scenes, it would be almost trivially easy to scare up another two dozen votes for this bill.

What’s more, the failure of those business leaders to deliver Republican votes is part of what’s driving progressive suspicion that the whole thing is some kind of fraud. If the congress were debating the Employee Free Choice Act right now, the Chamber of Commerce would be all over the place whipping Republicans and as many moderate Democrats as they could find into line. But they don’t seem to be doing much of anything. Instead, the lobbying’s all being done by financial services firms that have no credibility in claiming to speak for the public interest.