Busi­ness groups to counter tea party in pri­maries

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY PA­TRICE HILL

The re­cent fis­cal cri­sis has opened a ma­jor rift be­tween the tea party wing of the Repub­li­can Party and busi­ness groups that tra­di­tion­ally have backed Repub­li­cans, with many busi­ness lead­ers now vow­ing to get in­volved more in GOP pri­maries to try to counter in­sur­gent can­di­dates.

Tea party lead­ers are de­fi­ant, say­ing they will not change course de­spite crit­i­cism from the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, Busi­ness Roundtable and other top busi­ness groups. But busi­ness lead­ers ar­gue that the scorched-earth tac­tics used by tea party Repub­li­cans dur­ing the 16-day shut­down and de­bate over rais­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s bor­row­ing limit marked the fourth time since the GOP took con­trol of the House in 2011 that tea party ad­her­ents pre­cip­i­tated a gov­ern­men­tal cri­sis that zapped con­sumer and busi­ness con­fi­dence, raised un­cer­tainty and ex­erted a ma­jor drag on eco­nomic growth.

Be­sides en­cour­ag­ing more busi­ness­friendly can­di­dates in pri­mary con­tests, busi­ness groups are ral­ly­ing be­hind es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans such as Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can who is be­ing tar­geted by tea party ac­tivists for bro­ker­ing a deal to tem­po­rar­ily raise the debt ceil­ing and re­open the gov­ern­ment, while launch­ing a ne­go­ti­a­tion with Democrats over bud­get cuts and pro­posed tax and en­ti­tle­ment re­forms.

Busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives agree with many limit and end to the shut­down to pre­vent another ma­jor eco­nomic slow­down at a time when many busi­nesses hoped the econ­omy would be pick­ing up speed.

That pit­ted the busi­ness groups against ac­tivist con­ser­va­tive groups such as the Club for Growth and Her­itage Ac­tion, which urged Repub­li­cans to stand firm with the tea party.

Caught in the mid­dle was Koch In­dus­tries, the fi­nancier of many tea party-af­fil­i­ated groups. Koch is­sued a let­ter dis­tanc­ing it­self from the shut­down strat­egy.

Tak­ing on the ide­o­log­i­cal con­ser­va­tives could be a bruis­ing task for the busi­ness groups, but it’s some­thing they say they now re­al­ize they have to do.

“Pol­i­tics has al­ways been a full-con­tact sport. The most ac­tive groups of­ten com­mand the most at­ten­tion, and that’s why the tea party has risen in its in­flu­ence within the GOP,” Mr. French said. “The shut­down has made it clear that the busi­ness com­mu­nity can­not af­ford to stay on the side­lines any longer. If you don’t like what’s go­ing on in Wash­ing­ton, get in the game and make a dif­fer­ence.”

The bat­tle has been joined in a few races. Be­sides Mr. McCon­nell, the tea party is tar­get­ing Sen. La­mar Alexan­der, a prag­matic Repub­li­can from Ten­nessee, and eight-term Rep. Michael K. Simp­son, Idaho Repub­li­can. Busi­ness pro­po­nents, in turn, are pledg­ing to unseat Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Repub­li­can, who de­feated Robert Ben­nett in 2008, in one of the first suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tive pri­mary cam­paigns against a GOP in­cum­bent.

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