GOP role as business party in conflict with Tea Party

Posted 4/3/12

WASHINGTON - Business groups counting on Republican gains in Congress to deliver their legislative agenda are voicing frustration over obstacles within a party usually allied with their interests.

At least two measures are hitting snags - long-term highway construction funding and authority to keep the Export-Import Bank in business beyond May 31. Many of the Republicans elected in 2010 lean too heavily toward the demands of the Tea Party and other anti-spending groups, business leaders say.

“There are a number of Republican members, particularly new members, who are against the federal government having a large role in transportation issues,” said Pete Ruane, president of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association in Washington, D.C. “I don’t understand that,” Ruane said. “Their larger idea of cutting off federal spending trumps their support for transportation.”

Bruce Josten, top lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Tea Party-backed lawmakers have focused the congressional agenda on the deficit and debt. “It’s entirely appropriate if you look at the numbers,” he added.

Still, Josten criticized the anti-spending Club for Growth, which rates lawmakers in part on whether they join it in opposing the highway and bank bills.

“Just saying no to everything is not a contribution to the debate,” Josten said.

Export-import prospects

Business groups will probably see a resolution of both issues this year, some lawmakers say.

“Ex-Im is likely to be reauthorized,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., “and if a final highway bill can be paid for appropriately and doesn’t add to the deficit, I think it will pass.”

Other Republicans maintain that the party won control of the U.S. House in 2010 and gained Senate seats because voters wanted restraint on government spending, not an agenda aligned entirely with business. New House members react to that and pull the debate their way, they say.

“This is actually a very free-market-oriented majority,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “It’s focused more on the deficit, the long-term tax structure, than things individual industries might like. But it’s getting really big issues taken care of.”

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