Not All Republicans Embrace Big Business All The Time

The Republican Party in the past has had a close relationship with Wall Street and big business. But lately there's growing tension and disagreement as some Republicans in Congress consider a possible government shutdown. The Tea Party seems to have the strongest criticism of big business.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Here's one reason Republicans are divided over a possible government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling: Though some would like to pressure President Obama over health care or the budget, their business allies disapprove. They want to avoid economic damage. Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: To be clear, the Republican Party is quick to tout its credentials as the party of business. In last year's presidential campaign, large corporations and investment banks were major donors to GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who made his own business experience a centerpiece of his campaign.

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MITT ROMNEY: My own experience was, I got the chance to start my own business. I know what it's like to hire people, and to wonder whether you're going to be able to make ends meet down the road. Freedom and free enterprise are what...

GONYEA: But not all Republicans fully accepted Romney. Most distrustful was the Tea Party. And it's from that group that you hear the strongest GOP criticism of big business.

From the movement's inception during President Obama's first year in office, there was already anger about the troubled Asset Relief Program known as TARP, a measure enacted under President Bush and supported by leading business organizations.

The outrage escalated in Obama's first term. Sarah Palin captured the sentiment at a Tea Party gathering three years ago.

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SARAH PALIN: First it was the banks, mortgage companies, financial institutions, then automakers. Soon, if they had their way, health care, student loans...

GONYEA: Jack Pitney teaches politics and government at Claremont McKenna College.

JACK PITNEY: People respect the individual who starts a business, who meets a payroll. They don't necessarily like the abstract corporations. And I think that's the distinction a lot of Tea Party people make.

GONYEA: That was the case with Sen. Ted Cruz's marathon defund-Obamacare speech in Congress this week. In it, he spoke of the special treatments special interests get, including big business. Several hours in, he combined praise for his Senate colleague Marco Rubio with a jab at Wall Street.

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SEN. TED CRUZ: One of the things I admire about Sen. Rubio is, he views issues in this Senate not from how it impacts the titans of industry - the CEOs - but from how it impacts people like his dad and my dad: people who are struggling, who are claiming the economic ladder, who are seeking the American dream.

GONYEA: Cruz was also pushing back against a letter sent to Congress last week by a prominent voice for business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The letter argued that the risk of a government shutdown, quote, "might trigger disruptive consequences for the U.S. economy." The letter also urged Congress to raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner to protect the nation's credit rating.

Bruce Josten is the chamber's top government affairs official.

BRUCE JOSTEN: What's happening this week is, you know, a - almost a silly debate on funding the federal government for 2014, with Obamacare being, I guess, the centerpiece on the table. Look, Obamacare is important. It's not the big deal. I mean, the big deal is every other fixed entitlement program that we've got.

GONYEA: He said everybody in Congress should be talking about that. He blames both parties for avoiding the discussion. Josten acknowledges disagreements with the GOP. Besides TARP, the current shutdown debate, and now recurring debt ceiling fights, the Chamber has also been at odds with many Republicans over immigration reform. Those positions have prompted criticism of the Chamber of Commerce from the Tea Party and many other Republicans.

Josten's response?

JOSTEN: Look, you don't work in this town and do these jobs, you know, not knowing there's ups and downs and hills and valleys, or you jump out a window. My job is to continue to push, to continue to form, continue to educate, to build coalitions and get things done.

GONYEA: And if, in this particular moment, it's harder for the business community to make its case to Republicans in Congress, Josten says change is the one constant in Washington, and that the Chamber is in it for the long haul.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

GREENE: During that 21-hour speech against Obamacare, Republican Ted Cruz infuriated some colleagues. Cruz said Republicans who disagreed with his chosen tactics were the same as those who failed to stand up to Hitler.

INSKEEP: One response came from Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain said Cruz was overlooking what came before his long speech: the entire Democratic process. McCain said Congress fought over Obamacare in 2009, a fight that was, quote, "honest and fair." McCain's side lost, but made 160 amendments in committee. President Obama's reelection settled the matter.

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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Well, the people spoke. They spoke much to my dismay, but they spoke, and they reelected the president of the United States.

INSKEEP: McCain still dislikes the law, but said: That's democracy.

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