The Hill: US Chamber calls for Congress to end gridlock, saying businesses are ‘fed up’

THE HILL, KARL EVERS-HILLSTROM

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday warned Congress: Businesses are “fed up” with gridlock.

The nation’s largest business lobbying group made it clear, during its annual conference, that corporate America wants results out of a divided legislative branch, encouraging bipartisan breakthroughs on immigration, permitting, the debt ceiling and other key issues.

The message comes as lawmakers worry that the Senate and House will struggle to reach consensus on must-pass spending bills, let alone bolder legislative efforts.

“The polarization, the gridlock, the overreach, and the inability to act smartly and strategically for our future is making it harder for all of us to do our jobs, fulfill our roles, and move this country forward,” U.S. Chamber CEO Suzanne Clark said.

The debt limit came up throughout the Chamber’s conference, highlighting the business community’s concern about the prospect of a historic default that would devastate the U.S. economy.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has pledged to couple any debt limit increase with spending cuts as part of his agreement with GOP opponents to win the gavel, raising the risk of a dangerous standoff later this year.

“We had dinner with a bunch of business leaders and our board members last night talking about their priorities. And there was fear, empathic emotion around the need to not default on our debt, to not play chicken with the true faith and credit of the United States,” Clark told reporters.

Still, Chamber officials said they share Republicans’ concerns about the national debt and pointed to potential overhauls to entitlement programs.

“This isn’t some binary choice. We can find a way though bipartisan solutions for both, and the consequences for failing to do so have to be unacceptable to everyone,” Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s top lobbyist, told reporters.

The U.S. is rapidly closing in on its $31.4 trillion borrowing limit. As soon as this month, the Treasury Department will have to take “extraordinary measures” to free up cash and pay borrowers, measures that will likely last until July or August.

In an interview with the Chamber’s Evan Jenkins, a former GOP congressman, Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) called his caucus’s debt limit strategy “disconcerting.”

“These are debts that are due and owing. We’ve incurred them, and now we need to honor those debts,” Joyce said, adding that debates over federal spending should be hashed out in the appropriations process.

Experts say a default would ruin confidence in the U.S. political system, send interest rates soaring and cost millions of Americans their jobs.

“Any difference of ideology, any difference of politics, that’s an argument to have … but risking the economic standing of the United States, risking default, risking economic catastrophe is something that is not a tenable option,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said in an interview with the Chamber at Thursday’s event.

Clark on Thursday leaned into some of McCarthy’s top priorities, including cracking down on crime, fixing the southern “border crisis” and countering China, in addition to highlighting the importance of reducing government spending as part of a debt limit deal.

Her remarks come as the Chamber finds itself on the outs with McCarthy despite being closely aligned with House Republicans on economic issues. That relationship deteriorated when the traditionally GOP-allied Chamber endorsed a slate of vulnerable House Democrats in the 2020 election.

“We work all day long with House Republicans in every part of that conference, sat next to House Republicans at dinner last night, talked to one on the way into work this morning,” Clark said.

Clark called on lawmakers to secure the southern border, stating that the Chamber’s partners in the region describe a “humanitarian crisis gripping their towns with little to no help from the federal government.” She said that could be part of a broader immigration reform package to help address worker shortages.

“When a border crisis allows millions to cross illegally into our country, but we can’t get visas processed for engineers and nurses that businesses are desperate to hire and communities need — government isn’t working,” she said.

Clark cheered House Republicans’ select committee to investigate China, which was approved this week with substantial bipartisan support, saying it could be a powerful tool to crack down on Beijing’s human rights abuses and intellectual property theft.

She also denounced crime in major cities, a common GOP talking point and key part of McCarthy’s agenda.

“And what about the scourge of crime sweeping major American cities?” Clark said in her prepared remarks. “Customers won’t patronize businesses where they don’t feel safe. Businesses won’t open or stay in communities where the threat is high. Corporations won’t invest in cities where lawlessness is left unchecked.”

Bradley, meanwhile, noted that the Chamber’s 2022 endorsements overwhelmingly went toward Republican candidates.

House Republicans have distanced themselves from corporate America in recent years over large companies’ social and political stances.

While the Chamber has close connections with many House Republicans, getting through to leadership may be more of a challenge.

In November, McCarthy privately called on the Chamber’s board to replace Clark with a new leader, which the business group swiftly rejected. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) previously told The Hill that he wouldn’t take a meeting with the Chamber.

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