Recently, some of my friends have expressed shock and dismay over the Chamber of Commerce’s endorsements of big-government establishment Republicans like Dick Lugar and Jon Bruning. After all, they suggest, isn't the Chamber a bastion of free-market, pro-growth policies?
The answer is really simple. It is no enigma. The Chamber of Commerce is not conservative, pro-free-market, or even necessarily pro-growth. They support the special interests of big business. Period. When those interests intersect or overlap with free-market, pro-growth policies, such as advocacy for tax cuts and lower regulations, they will side with conservatives. But when those interests require the stewardship of big government intervention, they will side with the forces of statism. Hence, they are not paragons of free-market commerce; they support government-run commerce, albeit with tendentious policies towards their interests.
Chamber of Commerce Republicans are the embodiment of "big-government conservatism." They support lower taxes and regulations, but have no desire to limit the size of government. In fact, a powerful and officious federal government is part and parcel of their special interest agenda. When they desire to tilt the playing field towards their special interest, big-government is their friend and the free-market is their enemy.
It is for this reason that the Chamber joined with the AFL-CIO in supporting a massive expansion of federal transportation spending. Instead of allowing each state to pay for its own infrastructure needs, the Chamber wants unlimited federal funds flowing to contracts with their clients. In fact, they were even willing to go against their tendency to oppose tax increases, by calling on Congress to raise the federal gasoline tax to do so.
It is for this reason that they support expansion of the Export-Import Bank, which keeps taxpayer-backed risky loans flowing to their special interests.
It is for this reason that they lobbied for TARP, auto bailouts, and stimulus.
They also view a broad federal government role in education as beneficial to their interests. That's why they supported No Child Left Behind and continue to support a massive federal footprint in education.
They also view green energy subsidies as "tax cuts" for businesses. That's why they support the extension of the Production Tax Cut credit.
They believe that it is necessary to have an endless flow of cheap labor. That's why they need the federal government to ensure that states are precluded from cracking down on illegal immigration.
They believe that the government must protect their cyber interests. That's why they supported SOPA, a terrible big-government solution to a legitimate problem.
As noted previously, the Chamber does some good work on certain tax issues and advocacy for domestic drilling and reduction of the regulatory regime. But those views are born out of self-interest more than an intrepid conviction for free-market capitalism, despite the rhetoric they use to vouch for those positions.
It is for this reason that the Chamber doesn't back conservatives, nor does it back pure liberals. The Chamber backs big-government Republicans like Lugar and Bruning. Lugar's record matches almost perfectly with the Chamber agenda. Their support of him is par for the course. Hence, a deeper understanding of the Chamber's agenda illuminates the broader schism within the Republican Party between free-market conservatives and big-government "conservatives".
Let's remember that the distinction between the two agendas for the Republican Party also has political ramification in addition to the policy differences. For all too long, the left has been tainting Republicans – with some degree of success – as the party of big business – one that is out of touch with the little guy.
As we all know, the truth is just the opposite. Liberals are the ones who support the interventionist policies of the big special interests to the detriment of "the little guy," who is forced to pay more for vital goods and services due to the market distortions. We are the ones who support a level playing field for all. Unfortunately, crony capitalist Republicans muddle that distinction by supporting their own special interest interventions, which may or may not overlap with those of liberal special interests. Both the left and the Chamber support government-run commerce; the distinction lies in who stands to benefit from those policies.
We will not win the political arguments with pale-pastel policies from those who support government-run commerce. The Chamber of Government Run Commerce represents the Republican Party of the past. We must look to the future for a cadre of new free-market conservative leaders – ones who are unvarnished of the policy and political baggage of crony capitalism.