Back when Donald Trump was running for president, he sent out pretty regular signals that he was a different kind of Republican. He repeatedly promised to protect Medicare and Social Security from cuts of the kind the Paul Ryan wing of the party has long dreamt of making. Perhaps his biggest departure from GOP orthodoxy was his loud and persistent criticism of unfair trade agreements. He also showed a certain interest in taking on corporate special interests, frequently attacking hedge funds and calling for a reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, which would break up the big banks by separating commercial banking from riskier investment banking. He even criticized the biggest corporate special interest group of them all, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, declaring at one of his rallies that the Chamber was “controlled totally by various groups of people that don’t care about you whatsoever.”
The Chamber is the premier voice for Big Business in Washington, and it spends hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying and electioneering in favor of its reactionary agenda and the Republican candidates that support it. If you’re not already familiar with the Chamber, check out part one of this series which will bring you up to speed.
Now that Trump has been elected, he’s singing a very different, but nonetheless familiar tune. He’s singing that same old corporatist, budget cutting, trickle-down tune that Republicans have sung since Reagan. The tune the Chamber wrote.
The first signs that President-elect Trump had fallen under the influence of the Chamber came with the people he chose to lead his transition team.
Take his team working on trade policy. It prominently features Rolf Lundberg, a former lobbyist and senior vice president at the Chamber. In his work for the Chamber, Lundberg defended NAFTA, opposed legislation that would have limited outsourcing, criticized “protectionist” trade policies, and was even registered to lobby on the TPP, of which the Chamber was one of the primary boosters.
Or take the team working on economic policy. It is led by Bill Walton, a former Chamber board member. Walton has been described as a “right-wing libertarian who doesn’t believe in government at all” and someone who “hates government and bristles at regulation.”
What’s going on here, you might ask? Opposing unfair trade agreements – NAFTA and TPP chief among them – was one of candidate Trump’s signature issues. And promising to break up the banks (through regulation) was one of his biggest applause lines. And yet here is President-elect Trump appointing Chamber veterans – people who championed NAFTA and TPP and decry regulation – to key policy-making posts in his transition team.
It would appear that President-elect Trump, never one for policy, has decided to essentially outsource policy-making to the corporatist wing of the Republican Party much the way he outsourced production of his clothing line to workers overseas. Only in this case, it won’t be textile workers in Bangladesh paid an average of 33 cents an hour doing the work, but instead the handsomely-paid lobbyists at the Chamber.
Chamber President Tom Donohue recently wrote that “[t]he Chamber is already working with transition officials to identify priority areas where relief is most urgently needed.” He then goes on to name the fiduciary rule, which would protect retirement savers from greedy financial advisors, and the clean water rule, which would protect our wetlands and streams and by extension our drinking water, as two regulations that Trump and the next Congress should make it a priority to reverse.
Donohue also urges passage of the Midnight Rules Relief Act (MRRA), which would allow Congress to wipe out public protections enacted in the final months a presidential administration en masse under the Congressional Review Act, and the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which seeks to hamstring the regulatory process by adding dozens of new requirements, many of them duplicating already existing safeguards. The RAA would also allow non-expert judges to second-guess the decisions made by an agency's technical experts, adding yet another hurdle to the regulatory process and giving industry-funded groups like the Chamber another opportunity to take out regulations that protect the environment and public health and welfare and hold big business accountable.
And if you still have any doubts about the Chamber’s influence over policy at Trump Tower, Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes recently stated that “[t]here is no divide between the Chamber and the president-elect.” And this, in the context of trade policy!
The Chamber’s apparent influence over policy-making in the Trump transition foretells a Trump administration that will do more to advance the Big Business-friendly, corporatist agenda than perhaps any other in history. While candidate Trump may have promised to stand up for working Americans against corporatist elites, it appears that President Trump will be very much in the thrall of those same elites, with disastrous consequences for working Americans.
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