Will business climate shift with Congress? | VailDaily.com

Will business climate shift with Congress?

Rana Rosen
Wintroath/AP file phototechnician Mark Pool fills a generic anti-inflammatory prescription at a Little Rock, Ark., Wal-Mart Super Center store. By boosting the power of Democrats in Congress, voters likely set in motion legislative efforts to lower the price of pharmaceuticals.

WASHINGTON (Medill News Service) Business groups this week began gearing up for a change in the agenda on Capitol Hill in January, but said they don’t anticipate major policy shifts under the Democratic majority. Labor unions, on the other hand, were jubilant over Tuesday’s election results. “Working families won big,” said Gerald McEntee, political committee chairman of the AFL-CIO and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Business groups and their lobbyists gave a number of reasons they believe the Democratic control of the House and Senate won’t rock their boat. “We have worked with Democrats in the past, both in the majority and the minority,” said Floyd Stoner, chief lobbyist at the American Bankers Association. “The issues remain, and we look for allies on both sides of the aisle.” The election earthquake that shook Washington did not shake Stoner. “If gridlock stops things we don’t like, it is a good thing,” he said. “If gridlock stops things we like, it is not.””We always worry about new regulation,” Stoner said, and in recent history Republican control did not entirely shield the financial services industry.

Like Stoner, other business advocates were not overly concerned by the Democratic success.”We don’t think there will be a major change in the support for small business,” said Dan Danner, executive vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Fortunately, the issues that affect small business … don’t have party labels.” He expressed some concern that Democrats will try to expand both the paid family medical leave law and health-care mandates for business, but said “We are hopeful there won’t be a shift.” Asked if Democratic control might help his push for passage of small business priorities, Danner said he couldn’t think of any instance where that would be true. Either way, he said, he too is betting on gridlock to keep things on an even keel for business. Chris Wloszczyna, spokesman for a mutual-fund group called Investment Company Institute, said his group’s priorities “don’t cause us to fear either party.””Our history is to have a bipartisan legislative agenda to help fund investors,” he said, pointing to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s help on protecting employee pensions when their companies run into financial trouble. Steve Bartlett, chief executive of the Financial Services Roundtable, did not foresee serious problems arising from the political changes.”I see more similarities on financial services issues, than I see differences,” he said, but expects some clear divisions will develop between the two parties over the next few months.

“I don’t think either party has a monopoly on excessive regulation,” he said. Bartlett said his priorities – which include reform of the Sarbanes-Oxley that imposed heavy regulations on corporate accounting in 2002 in the wake of the Enron collapse, and anti-predatory lending laws – have been deemed important by both parties. The differences, he said, will show in how the legislation is drafted. Bartlett, a staunch Republican, said although the party will address the main issues his industry cares about, the results probably will not completely meet his wishes. Anyway, he said, the new Democrats are not anti-business. He described them as “looking for better regulation, not more regulation.” Identifying pro-business politicians simply by party affiliation is no longer valid, Bartlett said.

While many business groups played down the transfer of authority on Capitol Hill, labor unions exulted. “Today is a new day in America,” McEntee said. Union leaders, noting labor’s huge contributions of get-out-the-vote volunteers for Democratic candidates, expressed confidence that the altered political climate will bring success in obtaining higher wages and improved health-care benefits. “You have a problem of gridlock,” said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president and policy director for the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank with a board of directors that includes major labor union leaders.”This is not an overwhelming seat change in Congress,” he said, theorizing that even with a two-seat Senate majority, Democrats will find it difficult to enact their agenda. He said, for example, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is in line to chair the Financial Services Committee starting in January, could steer legislation through the House, but predicted it would face tough sledding in the Senate. Frank’s priority is affordable housing, but that clearly has not been President Bush’s priority, he said.Eisenbrey said some business groups might not fear the Democrats because they purchased a type of “healthy influence that comes with gigantic contributions to campaign accounts.” Major change would come only if the Democrats are serious about reducing corruption, which he said includes both campaign contributions and the revolving door between Capitol Hill and Washington lobbying firms.Eisenbrey said that if incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California tackles corruption as she promised, “You could see a major change in the way corruption is treated in Washington, because the ability to influence members would be diminished substantially.” Brendan Daly, Pelosi’s spokesman, predicted the House’s “New direction will benefit business and labor.” He said the Democrats will focus on creating jobs and encouraging business innovation. Daly said Pelosi wants to crack down on oil and pharmaceutical industry profits, but that Democrats have powerful advocates on the small business committee in the House. Realignment on Capitol Hill is going to produce lawmakers who are “definitely going to be friendlier to labor than the Congress we had,” Eisenbrey said. Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism