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Business groups weigh in on debt limit impasse ahead of meeting

GOP-leaning groups diverge on conditions, but generally agree on one thing: get it done

Josh Bolten, right, CEO of the Business Roundtable, talks with now-retired Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker after a 2018 Senate hearing on trade and tariff policy.
Josh Bolten, right, CEO of the Business Roundtable, talks with now-retired Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker after a 2018 Senate hearing on trade and tariff policy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ahead of an afternoon sit-down at the White House between President Joe Biden and congressional leaders, business groups are pressuring the two parties to cut a bipartisan deal to promptly resolve the ongoing debt limit standoff.

The business community is growing more vocal after last week’s surprise announcement from Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen that the debt ceiling must be raised or suspended as early as June 1 to avoid missed payments that could spark economic calamity.

In recent days, influential groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and Retail Industry Leaders Association have weighed in urging lawmakers and the White House to put aside their differences. The groups’ rhetoric has varied somewhat.

The chamber’s release on Tuesday called specifically for pairing a debt limit boost with discretionary spending caps and provisions to streamline the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects. The group’s chief policy officer, former House GOP leadership aide Neil Bradley, said such measures were “ripe for inclusion” in any final package, arguing they will reduce deficits, bring certainty to the appropriations process and boost infrastructure investment.

Similarly, NAW President and CEO Eric Hoplin urged negotiators to strike a deal that includes “serious steps toward addressing the out-of-control spending that led us here in the first place.”

Those positions align more with the House Republican position, represented by the bill that chamber passed last month on a narrow partisan vote. By contrast, the Business Roundtable and RILA statements didn’t weigh in with any policy prescriptions, either for the “clean” debt limit increase favored by Biden and most Democrats or any of the add-ons sought by Republicans.

“Securing a bipartisan path forward to raise the debt ceiling could not be more urgent,” Business Roundtable CEO Joshua Bolten said in a Monday statement. “The cost of a default, or even the threat of a default, is simply too high.”

Bolten said a default would lead to widespread job losses, severe hits to retirement accounts and higher borrowing rates and harm the dollar’s role in the global financial system. 

Michael Hanson, RILA’s senior executive vice president for public affairs, said in a statement that a “misstep” on the debt limit could lead to an “economic shockwave.”

“There are principled men and women serving in government in both political parties who understand the country cannot continue to prosper if we continue to govern from the edge of a cliff, budgeting from crisis to crisis without meeting our long-term obligations and setting a course of stability,” Hanson said.

The chamber and the NAW represent a huge array of businesses, large and small, whereas the Business Roundtable and RILA memberships generally include some of the largest U.S. corporations. All of them typically skew Republican in their political leanings based on campaign donations from the groups’ political action committees and individuals, although again to varying degrees.

Among the four groups, RILA has the most bipartisan track record in recent elections; the group gave a little more than 53 percent of its funds to GOP candidates and committees last year, and the largest single donation went to Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. Two decades ago, RILA was typically donating 90 percent of its funds or more to Republicans, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org.

About 95 percent of Business Roundtable donations went to Republicans during the 2022 cycle, and 86 percent in 2020. The NAW’s campaign funds typically go almost exclusively to Republicans, with 96 percent in 2022, a figure that dipped below 88 percent just once in more than three decades.

The chamber has had some high-profile rifts with Republicans on Capitol Hill over the party’s more populist strain evident since the 2016 election of former President Donald Trump. But the group’s campaign funding has still mostly tilted red in recent years, with 75 percent of funds to Republicans in 2022 — not counting $3 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, along with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, are all slated to attend the 4 p.m. meeting Tuesday with Biden at the White House.

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