WASHINGTON — Having failed to persuade their traditional Republican allies in Congress to avert a government shutdown, business leaders fear bigger problems ahead, and they're taking sides with a Democratic president whose health care and regulatory agenda they have vigorously opposed.
President Barack Obama is embracing the business outreach, eager to employ groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street CEOs to portray House Republicans as out of touch even with their long-established corporate and financial patrons.
Yet, the partial closing of the government and the looming confrontation over the nation's borrowing limit highlight the remarkable drop in the business community's influence among House Republicans, who increasingly respond more to tea party conservatives than to the Chamber of Commerce.
On Wednesday, Obama was hosting chief executives from the nation's 19 biggest financial firms. Moreover, the Chamber of Commerce has sent a letter to Congress signed by about 250 business groups urging no shutdown and warning against a debt ceiling crisis that they say could lead to an economically disastrous default.
"We're here to talk about what we're expert in, which is what the economy requires and what's helpful for growth," said Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, as he arrived at the White House.
Asked whether Obama should drop his no-negotiation stance with Republicans over the debt ceiling, JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon said: "I'm not a politician, I just want to see America grow so that people have jobs."
The divide between some GOP lawmakers and the corporate groups that have helped shape the Republican agenda in the past is partly a result of a legacy of the Wall Street bailouts of 2008-09 and a changing communication and campaign finance landscape that has weakened the roles of corporate donors and of the major political parties.
Interviews with House Republicans from all regions of the country demonstrate the corporate community's waning clout. Most of these lawmakers say local business owners and chambers of commerce have not raised the potential economic downside of a government shutdown or debt default.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, like many of his colleagues, said the overwhelming message he hears from business owners is their dislike of Obama's health care overhaul, which is at the center of Congress' impasse and the government shutdown. Likewise, Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said he mostly hears business owners complain "about the negative effects of 'Obamacare' upon their ability to do business and hire people."
When Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., was asked if he had heard business groups express fears of a government shutdown's economic impact, he replied: "No. And it wouldn't make any difference if I did."
Still, major business groups are raising alarms, citing the economic cost of a shutdown and warning of even more serious consequences if Congress doesn't act quickly to raise the $16.7 trillion borrowing limit, which the government is expected to hit around mid-October.
The letter circulated by the Chamber of Commerce urges lawmakers to raise the debt ceiling "in a timely manner and remove any threat to the full faith and credit of the United States government." It also acknowledges Republican fears over the unsustainable growth of major benefit programs such Medicare and Social Security and the need for a more business-friendly tax system.
But in a rejection of the tactics of House Speaker John Boehner, the letter urges Congress to pass first a short-term spending bill, then raise the debt ceiling, "and then return to work on these other vital issues."
That advice is being ignored by the GOP-led House.
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