Business leaders question direction of Republican Party.
The extreme conservative faction of the Republican Party — better known as the Tea Party — was largely responsible for the recent government shutdown and brinksmanship over the nation's debt limit. A majority of the public has laid blame for the shutdown at the feet of the Republican Party, even though a minority of House Republicans forced its will on the leadership and stymied any compromise. Now business groups, traditionally aligned with Republican positions, are reassessing whether to automatically support the Republican Party or, at least, certain candidates just because they have an "R" next to their name.
The reckless approach toward governing has many business leaders alarmed, and they are disappointed with the Republican Party apparatus for not standing up to the insurgency within its ranks. These executives also worry that the gridlock and bad blood in Washington over the budget will prevent Congress from making progress on other priorities such as immigration reform.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, recently announced it plans to reevaluate its practice of not taking sides in primary elections in order to help candidates who are willing to take more a more practical approach to governing and give greater consideration to issues of concern to the business community.
And American Trucking Associations CEO Bill Graves, in an eye-opening speech, trashed the Tea Party movement as a "corrosive force."
In his address at the ATA annual conference and exhibition in Orlando on Oct. 21, the former governor of Kansas said: "Don’t get me wrong — while it’s appropriate, and there is certainly merit in advocating for reduced government spending, smaller government, reducing our debt, limiting regulations and controlling the reach and intrusive nature of the federal government — insisting on having things their way, without a hint of willingness to compromise and threatening to 'burn the house down' otherwise, is a combination of foolish, ill-advised, reckless and detrimental actions to the future of this country.
"Compromise must be at the heart of all the federal government does," he continued, "or we run the risk of continually fighting and re-fighting battles brought about by one political party feeling 'run over' and victimized by the other. We are certainly seeing evidence of the Democrats’ handling of the Affordable Care Act in the vitriolic reaction many Republicans are having to it — a reaction that recent elements of the program's roll-out seems to justify. Just my opinion, but I think the Republican Party is going to spend a considerable amount of time, energy and money wrangling internally over just who they are and who they represent. Until they get it figured out, the Democratic Party will dominate presidential elections and likely control one, if not both, chambers of the Congress. Why do I conclude that? Simply said, the Tea Party is intent on fielding candidates and challenging any Republican officeholder or candidate not viewed as conservative enough and committed to their agenda. In many instances, the Tea Party candidate will win the primary election due to an energized and mobilized base of supporters, but will be unelectable in the general election. We’ve already seen evidence of that in races across the country.
Graves and other business leaders are basically saying they want to
deal with centrist Republicans, and if Republicans become politically
marginalized then they will have to build a better working relationship
with Democrats who hold power.
Some, too, may totally disengage from politics and stop making political contributions.
"I’ve personally been in this political Family Feud, and in the near term, no good will come of it for the Republican Party," Graves said. "If I was your political broker, my advice would be that you should 'sell' your Republican shares and 'buy' Democrat. The recent performance by Republicans in Washington has provided the Democrats cause for great celebration."
As President Obama's Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood repeatedly pumped the company line that the administration would not consider raising the gas tax to help fund transportation programs and pay for necessary infrastructure upgrades.
Obama is a big advocate of infrastructure investment, but has opposed hiking the gas tax on the grounds that the economy is too fragile and working-class people are struggling to make ends meet. He favors using the general treasury to support a short burst of construction as well as an infrastructure bank to guide loans and private sector financing to meritorious projects.
LaHood, who left office in late summer, spoke three weeks ago at an event in Arlington, Va., that highlighted futuristic transportation options. During the question-and-answer period, he called for a 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax, which has not been touched since 1993, and said it should be tied to the inflation rate. He also said the depleted Highway Trust Fund should be supplemented by a vehicles-miles-traveled tax, tolling and public-private partnerships, according to a news release from the event.
Tolling and VMT are not widely popular, but almost all experts say raising the gas and diesel tax is necessary in the short term, and many industry groups have said they are willing to pay more as long as the proceeds are dedicated to infrastructure.
Warming Up the Crowd.
- "I just found out you also handle a lot of the country’s coffee, which means you're responsible for keeping the White House awake at all times." — President Obama on Friday during a speech at the Port of New Orleans where he talked about the importance of ports and spending more to ensure efficient commerce. The Port of New Orleans has 14 warehouses with 5.5 million square feet of storage space and six roasting facilities devoted to coffee within a 20-mile radius, and two bulk processing facilities and the world's largest coffee silo on property.
- "Some of you have mentioned that you were a little confused upon arrival in Orlando, as it's a city that's full of characters with names like Goofy, Daffy, Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, Tweedledee and Tweedledum and you mistakenly thought you'd traveled to Washington. Well, don't be alarmed. This is Orlando, not D.C. Take some comfort in knowing that all the cartoon characters that reside here can't harm our economy or your business. And unlike Washington's bunch of characters, the ones in Orlando are actually supposed to act that way." — American Trucking Association's CEO Bill Graves in his Oct. 21 "State of the Industry" address at the association's annual Management Conference and Exhibition.