February 7 2011
As President Obama prepares to address the Chamber of Commerce today, media outlets have been describing the relationship between the president and the business community as a “frosty.”
The schism between the Chamber and Obama – who, let’s be honest, has at times, been downright hostile toward business – has to do with a lot more than negative posturing. The Lafayette Park divide runs much deeper, and it’s worth revisiting here this morning.
Some readers might remember that in the fall of 2009 a number of leading corporations – notably energy giants Exelon, PNM, and PG&E – dropped out of the Chamber, citing the business group’s opposition to the Obama administration’s environmental policies.
The utility giants were right that the Chamber opposed the Democrats’ environmental position. Specifically, they pounced on the estimated $3.6 trillion Waxman-Markey global warming tax legislation, and Sen. Boxer’s companion bill that came out only days after the energy giants’ exit.
But, as Paul Harvey would have wanted to know, “what’s the rest of the story?”
Kimberly Strassel wrote in the WSJ back in October 2009 that this wasn’t a matter of the Chamber not being green enough. The energy trio’s exit had everything to do with what they had to benefit, and nothing to do with sound environmental policy.
Exelon and the others had a lot to gain from the climate legislation on the table. Strassel explains:
Under the House's climate-change bill, a few utilities—primarily those that have made big bets in renewable and nuclear energy—are poised to clean up once Congress hands them carbon emission credits. The bill sets aside 35% of the free credits for utilities. Exelon and other "renewable" utilities will get a huge piece of that pie.
And these corporations had worked hard for their benefits. Strassel adds:
Let's also not forget that Chicago-based Exelon and employees, including Mr. Rowe, contributed tens of thousands of dollars for their home-city presidential aspirant. And that Mr. Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, was once a consultant to Exelon. In an energy world in which winners and losers are picked on the Potomac, there is no harm in reminding the president who his friends are.
Of course, the Chamber doesn’t oppose blanket environmental reform; rather, it supports sensible policies that don’t threaten American jobs: pushing developing countries like China to reduce their carbon emissions, increasing the pursuit of nuclear power, and eliminating items like carbon tariffs that threaten American businesses.
As I’ve written before, this is an administration that is very comfortable picking winners and losers. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, and in this case, big energy corporations and environmental activists were poised to be the winners, and the American people the losers.
If President Obama wants to restore his relationship with the business community today, it’s going to take a lot more than simply saying I’m sorry. He’s going to have to show that he’s serious about lightening the load on American business and that he opposes crippling environmental policies.