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Tim Carney: GOP vs. Big Business

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

“One of the biggest lies in politics is the lie that Republicans are the party of big business,” now-Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., said during the campaign. New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes has an interesting piece demonstrating that Cruz is right in some important ways.

The myth of the GOP as the party of Big Business is pervasive. Liberals spout daily it and the media often believes it. At times this hurts liberals who buy into it, as I wrote in the context of climate change yesterday. Calmes in the Times quotes a GOP advisor saying as much:

“They trot out these big business executives and just assume, ‘Well, these guys are big business — if they just go tell Republicans what to do, they’ll do it.’ That’s just a cartoon version of how things work,”

That cartoon version should have been undercut by facts. For instance, that Barack Obama in 2008 shattered records on money from Wall Street, Pharma, tech, and the likes of Boeing and GE. His nearly $1 million haul from Goldman Sachs was the most a candidate raised from a single company in the era of McCain-Feingold (that is, post-soft money and pre-SuperPACs).

These days, Republican leaders are making the dynamic more clear. The Times quotes a press release from Republican House Speaker John Boehner: “GOP to Meet With Small Biz While POTUS Meets With Big CEOs.”

In another telling quote, Calmes quotes one GOP Hill staffer, ” ‘Corporate America isn’t the friend to Republicans that most people assume. So I think there is a healthier sort of skepticism that is brought into those meetings’ with business leaders.”

The Times article focuses on debt-ceiling and budget negotiation, and paints the business lobby’s interest as mostly being fear of “economic peril if Congress does not allow the government to keep borrowing.”

Drilling deeper, however, shows how business’s clash with conservatives isn’t merely about macroeconomic concerns, but also about business’s special interests that require big government.

For instance, the piece cites concerns about Medicare and Medicaid cuts. It seems relevant that many CEOs run companies that profit directly from Medicare and Medicaid spending. For one, there’s Obama inaugural donor Centene, which is regularly described as a “pure play Medicare and Medicaid company.”

The article also quotes Honeywell’s Republican CEO commenting on the divide between business and the GOP. Honeywell manufactures solar panels, and it lobbies for and profits from solar panel subsidies.

Aetna also pops up in the NYT article. If Aetna finds itself at odds with the GOP, it might be because the insurer successfully lobbied for a law requiring people to buy health insurance. Also because Aetna has invested in ObamaCare by buying up Coventry Health Care, “an insurer to boost government business under President Barack Obama’s health overhaul,” as Bloomberg News described the company at the time of the acquisition.

[ADDENDUM: And, Aetna's CEO advocates tax hikes {h/t Michael Cannon at Cato}.]

Cutting government would directly and acutely harm some of these companies. So they fear that this time the Republicans might actually mean it when they say they want to cut spending.

It was good of Jackie Calmes of the New York Times to notice that the GOP and Big Business don’t always see eye-to-eye. Next time she writes on this theme, hopefully she’ll delve deeper into what Cruz said: Big Business often lobbies for and profits from Big Government.

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