Opinion: Columnists

Justin Amash's support for free enterprise earns enmity of Big Business

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Photo - Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Politics,Congress,Timothy P. Carney,Columnists,2014 Elections,Campaigns,Lobbying,Club for Growth,Michigan,Justin Amash,Chambers of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has jumped into a Republican congressional primary in Michigan, trying to defeat incumbent Rep. Justin Amash. Amash's crime: being stubbornly consistent in opposing big government.

The Chamber's endorsement of Amash's opponent helps clarify some things that have long been true, but which have been muddled in the public eye and used against conservatives.

The first myth put to rest: Libertarianism and free enterprise are defenses of Big Business.

The second myth exposed: Challenging an incumbent in a primary is somehow impious or unsporting.

Amash is arguably the strongest defender of free enterprise in the House. His rating from the Club for Growth is 100 percent. He comes in second out of 435 House members on the National Taxpayers Union scorecard. This consistency earned him a primary from Grand Rapids businessman Brian Ellis.

Ellis explained that Amash is too beholden to principles and the Constitution: “He's got his explanations for why he's voted," Ellis said, "but I don't really care. I'm a businessman, I look at the bottom line.”

What has Amash done in his three and a half years in the House to earn the Chamber's wrath? Look over his Chamber of Commerce scorecard and you see a handful of votes where he gets a demerit from the business lobby.

Amash in 2012 voted against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that subsidizes U.S. exports with taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees to foreign companies and governments. He opposes Ex-Im's renewal this year, too.

Amash opposed as too profligate a few budget agreements the Chamber supported. He twice opposed patent legislation the Chamber backed. Amash twice crossed the Chamber by opposing cybersecurity legislation that gave immunity to tech companies cooperating with U.S. intelligence data collection. When highway bills spent more than the Highway Trust Fund could afford, Amash also voted no, to the Chamber’s disapproval.

"He's got his explanations for why he's voted, but I don't really care. I'm a businessman, I look at the bottom line."

Some of these issues are complex disputes (such as patent law), but on others Amash’s problem was simply taking the whole free-enterprise, limited-government thing a little too seriously.

The tension between "free enterprise" and "pro-business" is nothing new -- the Chamber supported the bailouts and President Obama's stimulus and regularly backs corporate subsidies. But somehow, Democrats have until now convinced most of the mainstream media that arguments for free enterprise are simply defenses of corporate America.

Let's hope nobody believes that line anymore.

Another silly piety blown up by the Amash contest: that it somehow violates the rules of war for conservative Republicans to try and defeat Republican incumbents.

Former Congressman and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee Tom Davis (now a lobbyist) blasted the Club for Growth for repeatedly opposing moderate incumbent Republicans in primaries: “Their goal is to purify the Republicans in the House.” Lobbyist and former GOP congressman Steve LaTourette rails against the Club: “They have set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner as to who is a good Republican and who is not a good Republican.”

LaTourette’s Main Street Partnership, like the Chamber, is backing Ellis today. You could say the Main Street Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce have set up their own trials, and are themselves trying to purify the GOP. While the Club for Growth’s purity tests involve limited government, the Establishment’s purity tests are about supporting existing businesses — which sometimes means tax cuts and other times means subsidies.

Republican Reps. Devin Nunes of California and Mike Rogers of Michigan are also backing Ellis. Both congressmen have headlined fundraisers for the challenger.

Justin Amash's main primary opponent, Brian Ellis (submitted photo)
Rogers also runs the MIKE R Fund (MIKE R stands for “Majority Initiative-Keep Electing Republicans”), which has given the maximum $5,000 to only three candidates this election, including Ellis. Rogers' own re-election committee gave another $2,000, making Ellis the only $7,000 recipient of Rogers cash in 2014. This senior Republican congressman’s main political activity this year, then, is trying to defeat a conservative Republican incumbent.

Nunes, who has called Amash “al Qaeda’s best friend in the Congress,” also gave Ellis $7,000: $5,000 from his "New PAC" and $2,000 from his re-election campaign.

Nunes, Rogers, the Chamber and Main Street Partnership aren't breaking any rules by trying to oust the incumbent — that's fair play and a sign of health competition within the party. You can't object too much, either, when the business lobby favors business profits over free enterprise.

Let's just all admit what's going on here: The GOP Establishment and the business lobby aren't about Team Play or Free Enterprise. They're about the GOP Establishment and the business lobby.

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on
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