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March 17th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Chamber of Commerce lobbies against health care bill

By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff, CNN

(CNN) – Once upon a time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its many local chapters went about the business of championing free enterprise and the advancement of commerce throughout the nation.

They still do all of that, but nearly 90 years after its birth, the Chamber of 2010 is not your grandfather’s or even your father’s Chamber.

Today, the nation’s largest business association is a key player in the crafting of legislation, as well as the electing of candidates for public office.

A perfect example: the health care debate. Turn on cable TV for any amount of time and you’re likely to see more than once this Chamber advertisement urging Congress to vote down the Democratic plan.

Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the Chamber, told us the president’s plan “is not going to work” and that “when you’re trying to restructure fundamentally between a sixth and a fifth of the economy all at once, you are going to have unintended consequences.“

The Chamber’s health care message, says Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Advisory Group, made its way into $42 million worth of TV ads last year. So far this year, the Chamber’s TV ad total is $3 million and growing.

And that’s not all.

The Chamber has gathered a massive database of supporters to operate a grassroots campaign in the fall to elect candidates who support their political agenda. Josten told us they “have a database of about six million names of people that we can reach out to and activate.”

David Artush, of the Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization, says the Chamber's massive advertising budget, grassroots organization, and extensive lobbying activities “is really frightening to members of Congress. It makes them listen to the Chamber’s lobbyists.”

Their $144 million lobbying budget last year, says Artush, “will buy you a lot. You can buy, you know, a lobbyist to talk to every member of Congress every day.”

“So?” asks Josten. “We’re a lobbying organization. That’s what we do!” He says “there’s a Republican and Democratic Governor’s Association. And the Boy Scouts have a lobbyist. The AARP is a lobbyist for the elderly. The churches have lobbyists…I mean, it really doesn’t matter what walk of life these people are when they kind of recoil at the term lobbying or lobbyists. But they all probably have at least three or probably a half dozen that are working for them here.”

Arkush doesn’t say there’s anything illegal about the Chamber’s vast resources to influence Washington. “It is the way the game is played, unfortunately. But they’ve got more resources to play it better than anyone else.”

Filed under: Politics
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Scott

    Re: Darryl 'we aren't our "brother's keeper", are we ?' I see you have been listening to Obama too much. Have you read the Bible? Who says 'brothers keeper'? The only place in the Bible that mentions brothers keeper is after Cain kills Abel. It is Cain who asks 'am I my brothers keeper?' No where does God say we should be our brothers keeper. Obama twisted that phrase numerous times on the campaign trail and only the truly gullible now think this phrase means something it does not.

    March 28, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  2. NC Jeff

    What does the US Chamber of Commerce have to do with health care? Seems to me that they have sold us out and should start doing their job of getting American manufacturing started again by selling OUR products to Our people. American companies producing in other countries can sell to the people of those countries. In other words, "make it here and sell it here, make it there and sell it there."

    Limit the imports to the US and level the playing field or theis country is finished.

    March 28, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  3. Ingemar

    It is very strange sitting outside US to understand why some people are so extremely angry about having to have an insurance or see other people have some benefit from "your" taxmoney.
    Health is in much a question of luck. Even if you live healthy, bad luck can give you disease or accident. And that is regardless of your economical status.
    In Europe, the "state" handles some money but ALL handling of illness is naturally between doctor an patienet. The film from Michael Moore íllustrates that part very good.
    I hope most US citizens will understand the benefits of this reform and that next election debates other large issues for US and help put US forward. (Less CO2 consumption, safer infrastructure, less violence and drugs is some I vould suggest.)

    March 28, 2010 at 3:32 am |
  4. TED

    This is exactly why we need to change the system. Apparently the only way to do that now, with the recent Supreme Court decision, is to add a Constitutional Amendment giving Congress authority to regulate campaign speech and finance. Eve better, make the U.S. Treasury the sole allowable source of campaign funds. A general fund could also be created made of tax deductible contributions from people and corporations. This fund would be split equally between all candidates.
    No more corruption and favors and lobbyists buying influence and power. "We the People" ROCK!

    March 27, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  5. John Boy

    Felecia, get a grip. This health care bill is just another shell game to reach into our pockets and redistribute the hard earned money individuals have worked for years to accumulate. Already companies are saying they are going to have to lay off workers to pay for the increased costs that they are going to have to pay. And insurance premiums are now going to go up for those people that do have insurance to help subsidize the cost of other people who want insurance but don't want to pay for it. Oh, I bet you are one of the free loaders who wants someone else to pay for your insurance.

    March 27, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  6. Felecia Lockmer

    How sad it has become when people who needs Healthcare cannot require it because the Republicians have no heart. For those congressman who are being attack stand strong because Real Americans are really behind Healthcare and not these people who call themselves Tea Partyers. It has becaome even sadder when politicians insite hate among their supporters.Republican John Bohner it is just not good enough for you to hide behind a piece of paper(your statement release) now that the Republicians have been called out for the hatred , and violence that you and your Party, and Sarah Palin have cause. It's like you hit someone and then hide your hand if you the minority or majority whip stand up and take the Responsibility to what you have caused it a disgrace to see grown people who have so much hate inside them that they would threaten and destroy people property. Tell the tea Party these are crimes and we have Laws for them . They will be caught . This is scary and seems as if we are revisiting the sixty's with these scare tactics. Michael Steel , John Bohner it seems as if you are becoming the twilight Party not the Republican Party. Republican Leaders it's your time to stand for something and stopping the violence and threats that you have since November 20th been insighting these kind of tactics . Yes we are watching .
    Sign a Voter

    March 25, 2010 at 7:26 am |
  7. Tammy

    If the health care bill is so great then why isn't Congress & The President signed up? Can CNN ask them?

    March 24, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  8. John Herzog

    My small business has provided health care to it's employees for over 25 years. Many of our competitors do not offer health care coverage, so this bill will help to even the playing field and make us more competitive. The additional 31 million people covered will also be a new potential market expansion for us, since we are in the surgical products business. I have been in business for 30 years, never borrowed $ one from the bank for anything including financing inventory or receivables,....can't get more conservative than that and this fiscal conservative is proud that our president and congress did the right thing. The stock market has gone up(Dow) more than 3000 points since BO came to office, estimated at 4.3 tirillion of paper gain. The capital gains tax on this growth, at 15%, should be about 650 billion or enough to cover most of the 10 year cost of health care, and has put a ton of $'s in mine and many other's pockets. Happy Days!

    March 23, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  9. TC

    If Congress does not pass a health-care bill then I think they should pay for their own health insurance. Apparently they don’t realize how expensive it is and how many people can’t afford it. They should also take a 30% salary cut for ineffective performance. The current system we have is not working. We have been rated one of the worst health-care systems in the world. We also have a declining life expectancy. How is it that other countries have solved this problem? It seems to be directly related to the amount of corruption (lobbyists/corporation contributions to politicians) that’s involved in Congress. They had no problem approving an unnecessary war (Iraq) that will cost about 3 trillion dollars.

    Those that are opposing the health-care bill are misinformed and don’t realize the problem that exists. They feel that they have health insurance through their employer why should they care. The equivalent of saying “I have my health insurance, now go and die, leave me alone”. They don’t realize that they could lose their health insurance at anytime. The insatiable greed still persists in this country at all levels, mostly the wealthy but also on main street.

    March 19, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  10. Jeanette Baust

    It is deeply disappointing to see the Chamber use skewed polling and pour millions into defeating health care reform in my state (Colorado) and many others. With scare tactics and their "dire consequences" projections, they do a disservice to those of us who have tried to track these important issues and seek good information from professionals.

    Is it any wonder that people are disgusted, when those organizations they thought were reputable for years, engage in this kind of behavior?

    March 19, 2010 at 1:19 am |
  11. Darryl

    What would happen if all of these lobbying groups payed all of these 100's of millions of dollars into a health fund for fellow Americans in need? Oh what a silly idea, after all we aren't our "brother's keeper", are we ?

    March 17, 2010 at 8:51 am |