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US Chamber of Commerce won't seek Obama's defeat

November 17, 2010

WASHINGTON – Despite mounting an aggressive attack on many Obama administration policies, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday the giant trade association has no intention of working against President Barack Obama's re-election in 2012.

"It is not in our interests to get into presidential politics," Chamber President Thomas Donohue told reporters after addressing the chamber's board of directors and decrying what he called a "regulatory tsunami" faced by American business. He specifically cited signature Obama initiatives such as the new health care overhaul and financial regulations law.

"We have never seen anything of this scale before," he said of the rules under consideration. "It defies all logic and common sense."

But Donohue was careful to separate opposition to the president's policies and opposition to the president.

Donohue also voiced support for monetary policy initiatives by the Federal Reserve under Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He cautioned lawmakers not to encroach on the independence of the Fed, putting him at odds with many Republicans who have objected to the Fed's decision to keep borrowing rates low by purchasing $600 billion in Treasury debt.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and senior House Republicans Mike Pence of Indiana and Tom Price of Georgia called for the Fed to focus primarily on guarding against inflation instead of encouraging more employment. They said the Fed's efforts on job growth threatened to weaken the dollar.

Donohue said Bernanke has "acted in an important way and we must maintain the independence of the Fed and be very, very careful not to louse that up on Capitol Hill."

The chamber's political relationships are multilayered and don't hue specifically to one party on all issues. Though more closely aligned with Republicans, the chamber worked with the Obama administration to win support for continuing the $700 billion rescue of the banking sector, for its $800 billion economic stimulus and to assist financially reeling automakers.

But Obama and the chamber quarreled loudly during the debate on health care and on an overhaul of financial regulations.

The chamber spent more than $32 million in political ads during the midterm elections, most of them aimed against Democrats. Obama criticized the chamber during the campaign for not disclosing its donors.

In his speech, Donohue said the call for disclosure was an effort to "silence the business community." Chamber supporters, if revealed, would be come targets of "intimidation and harassment," he argued.

In an overture to the administration, the chamber's board met privately Wednesday with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S Trade Representative Ron Kirk. House Republican Leader John Boehner, the Speaker-in-waiting, and Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota also met with the board.

Even if the chamber does not actively inject itself into the presidential election, it inevitably will clash publicly with the administration, leaving little doubt about its views of Obama's presidency.

But Donohue's stance is also pragmatic. The chamber is seeking to influence the administration on issues of international trade, including a South Korea commercial pact that Obama was unable to clinch in Seoul last week. Donohue was in South Korea at the same time.

Following Donohue's remarks, White House deputy communications director Jennifer Psaki said: "On the heels of a successful trip to Asia, the president looks forward to working with many of the stakeholders, including the Chamber of Commerce, on the continued promotion of exports, free and fair trade and making America more competitive."

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