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Not All Republicans Embrace Big Business All The Time


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Here's one reason Republicans are divided over a possible government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling: Though some would like to pressure President Obama over health care or the budget, their business allies disapprove. They want to avoid economic damage. Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: To be clear, the Republican Party is quick to tout its credentials as the party of business. In last year's presidential campaign, large corporations and investment banks were major donors to GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who made his own business experience a centerpiece of his campaign.



GONYEA: But not all Republicans fully accepted Romney. Most distrustful was the Tea Party. And it's from that group that you hear the strongest GOP criticism of big business.

From the movement's inception during President Obama's first year in office, there was already anger about the troubled Asset Relief Program known as TARP, a measure enacted under President Bush and supported by leading business organizations.

The outrage escalated in Obama's first term. Sarah Palin captured the sentiment at a Tea Party gathering three years ago.


GONYEA: Jack Pitney teaches politics and government at Claremont McKenna College.

JACK PITNEY: People respect the individual who starts a business, who meets a payroll. They don't necessarily like the abstract corporations. And I think that's the distinction a lot of Tea Party people make.

GONYEA: That was the case with Sen. Ted Cruz's marathon defund-Obamacare speech in Congress this week. In it, he spoke of the special treatments special interests get, including big business. Several hours in, he combined praise for his Senate colleague Marco Rubio with a jab at Wall Street.


GONYEA: Cruz was also pushing back against a letter sent to Congress last week by a prominent voice for business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The letter argued that the risk of a government shutdown, quote, "might trigger disruptive consequences for the U.S. economy." The letter also urged Congress to raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner to protect the nation's credit rating.

Bruce Josten is the chamber's top government affairs official.

BRUCE JOSTEN: What's happening this week is, you know, a - almost a silly debate on funding the federal government for 2014, with Obamacare being, I guess, the centerpiece on the table. Look, Obamacare is important. It's not the big deal. I mean, the big deal is every other fixed entitlement program that we've got.

GONYEA: He said everybody in Congress should be talking about that. He blames both parties for avoiding the discussion. Josten acknowledges disagreements with the GOP. Besides TARP, the current shutdown debate, and now recurring debt ceiling fights, the Chamber has also been at odds with many Republicans over immigration reform. Those positions have prompted criticism of the Chamber of Commerce from the Tea Party and many other Republicans.

Josten's response?

JOSTEN: Look, you don't work in this town and do these jobs, you know, not knowing there's ups and downs and hills and valleys, or you jump out a window. My job is to continue to push, to continue to form, continue to educate, to build coalitions and get things done.

GONYEA: And if, in this particular moment, it's harder for the business community to make its case to Republicans in Congress, Josten says change is the one constant in Washington, and that the Chamber is in it for the long haul.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

GREENE: During that 21-hour speech against Obamacare, Republican Ted Cruz infuriated some colleagues. Cruz said Republicans who disagreed with his chosen tactics were the same as those who failed to stand up to Hitler.

INSKEEP: One response came from Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain said Cruz was overlooking what came before his long speech: the entire Democratic process. McCain said Congress fought over Obamacare in 2009, a fight that was, quote, "honest and fair." McCain's side lost, but made 160 amendments in committee. President Obama's reelection settled the matter.


INSKEEP: McCain still dislikes the law, but said: That's democracy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.