Friday, November 5, 2010

Tom Donohue: Obama's Tormentor - BusinessWeek

Tom Donohue: Obama's Tormentor - BusinessWeek

The 72-year-old Donohue could hear it all from his fourth-floor office, where he was trying not to gloat on the eve of a midterm election that was about to come out almost exactly as he hoped. "It sounds like our friends are here," he said.

The head of the Chamber of Commerce—the nation's largest business trade association, with an annual budget of $258 million—doesn't mind being called a bloodsucker or inspiring howls of protest. To the contrary, the opposition lets his members know he's doing his job—which makes them more likely to give money to his organization.

During the last two years, empowered by $350 million in donations from corporations such as Dow Chemical (DOW), Goldman Sachs (GS), Chevron Texaco (CVX), and many other anonymous sources, Donohue has emerged as President Obama's most effective antagonist. Almost every time the President introduced a major initiative, the chamber and its leader were primed to attack: New health-care laws imposed a "burdensome mandate on employers," and the Administration's Wall Street reforms would "choke off" business' access to capital. And don't get Donohue started on the White House's climate change proposals. It didn't matter that Obama helped resuscitate the banking system, bailed out auto manufacturers, and meddled far less with Wall Street than many of his supporters would have wished. Donohue tapped into a powerful vein of discontent within the business community and rode it like a rocket.

On Nov. 2, the Republican Party won control of the House of Representatives and increased its presence in the Senate by six seats, making Obama's chief tormentor even more powerful than he was before. The chamber supported the winner in 38 of 59 contests. "How do I feel? Tired," Donohue said the next day. "But that's fine. I think our guys did a great job."

He intends to spend his new political capital by reconfiguring the country's economic policies the same way that large corporations have always wanted to: by cutting taxes, slashing regulation, forging trade deals with foreign countries, and reducing the deficit.

He'd like to start by chipping away at the President's legislative achievements such as health-care and financial reform, which must still be implemented at the regulatory level. In short, the battles between the chamber and the White House are far from over. "Oh, hell no," Donohue laughs. "They are in the second inning."

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