Politics

War between Chamber of Commerce and White House spills into open

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday rejected a request from top White House adviser Valerie Jarrett to speak at a jobs summit hosted by the business group, the latest escalation in an ongoing war between the two camps.

“We would have loved to have gone and participated. We weren’t invited. In fact we were told not to come,” Jarrett said, during an interview on Bloomberg Television.

Chamber officials said Jarrett requested that she be allowed to address their gathering, a several-hour long “Jobs for America Summit,” on Wednesday morning, a few hours before the event began. They said the program was too full to fit her in.

At the summit, Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue railed against President Obama’s economic policies.

“Our current economic direction is not working,” Donohue said.

Donahue said that Obama’s health care and financial regulation initiatives are onerous to the point that the Americans will lose freedoms unique to the country.

“Taken collectively, the regulatory activity now underway is so overwhelming and beyond anything we have ever seen, that we risk moving this country away from a government of the people to a government of regulators,” Donohue said.

Donohue balanced this by denying that Obama is anti-business, continuing the Chamber’s habit of avoiding public statements that are openly hostile to the White House.

“I don’t believe the administration is anti-business. I believe the administration has a series of views of what they ought to do about social programs such as health care and environment issues,” he said.

“A lot of people want to start a fight between the administration and the business community. We’re not going there,” Donohue said.

But the move to deny Jarrett a speaking spot at their event pulled back the curtain on the relationship between the Chamber, which has traditionally been one of Washington’s most powerful interest groups, and the Obama White House, which has made a point of trying to weaken the Chamber.

Earlier in the day, Jarrett and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel sent a letter to the Chamber expressing disappointment at complaints registered publicly against the president by those in the business community.

“The stakes are far too high for us to be working against one another,” the letter from Jarrett and Emanuel said. “That is why we were surprised and disappointed at the rhetoric we have heard from some in the business community.”

The letter did not specify which comments they were referring to, but top business leaders have spoken out with increasing frequency in recent weeks to criticize Obama’s policies, saying he has created crippling uncertainty for business because of the massive regulatory regimes being constructed by the health care and financial regulation legislation.

Though corporate profits are up, the private sector is sitting on almost $2 trillion in cash reserves instead of expanding operations and hiring new workers.

Donohue urged the White House to extend the Bush tax cuts, reduce the corporate tax rate, do more to assure investors that the government can get its deficit and debt under control, submit free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress as soon as possible, and “remove … regulatory, legal, and financial roadblocks” for business.