The Chamber’s Civil War in Washington

By Josh Harkinson | Mother Jones

Published March 15, 2010

At the same time that the US Chamber of Commerce is leading the fight against health care reform and a carbon cap, one of its largest grassroots affiliates is strongly disagreeing with its stance in meetings with powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Today, a delegation from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers to voice strong support for cap and trade legislation and the core principles of the Senate’s health care bill. The delegation included United Airlines, Pacific Gas & Electric, and several small businesses. “The San Francisco business community has a different perspective on some key issues that are currently being considered in Congress,” said San Francisco Chamber vice president Rob Black, explaining why he’d chosen to circumvent the US Chamber’s lobbyists. “We wanted to be able to communicate with [Pelosi] directly the San Francisco businesses community’s perspectives on both those issues.”

Along with the San Francisco Chamber–one of the ten largest Chamber affiliates—ever more businesses and trade groups are distancing themselves from the Chamber’s partisan tactics. Earlier this month, a Microsoft representative publicly repudiated the Chamber’s position on climate change, writing that the Chamber “has never spoken for nor done work on behalf of Microsoft regarding climate change legislation.” And business groups that together count more members than the US Chamber does–groups that include the US Womens Chamber of Commerce, the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce–have signed a pledge in support of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which the US Chamber opposes.

Black is confident that the San Francisco Chamber’s positions have wide appeal across Main Street America. Climate change and oil dependence affect everyone from farmers to city merchants, “and rising health care costs are killing our small businesses,” he pointed out. “You can look at Main Street and see lots of empty store fronts. A big part of that is health care costs. We have to address that.”

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