The Chamber of Commerce & Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX)

According to its website, the Chamber of Commerce’s mission statement is as follows:

“To advance human progress through an economic, political and social system based on individual freedom, incentive, initiative, opportunity, and responsibility.”

As such, you can understand my confusion when I read this by The Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has issued its 2009 congressional scorecard, and once again, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex. — certainly one of the two most free-market politicians in Washington — gets the lowest score of any Republican.

Paul was one of a handful of GOP lawmakers not to win the Chamber’s “Spirit of Enterprise Award.” He scored only a 67%, bucking the Chamber on five votes, including:

  • Paul opposed the “Solar Technology Roadmap Act,” which boosted subsidies for unprofitable solar energy technology.
  • Paul opposed the “Travel Promotion Act,” which subsidizes the tourism industry with a new fee on international visitors.
  • Paul opposed the largest spending bill in history, Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill.

(Rep John Duncan, R-Tenn., tied Ron Paul with 67%. John McHugh, R-N.Y., scored a 40%, but he missed most of the year because he went off to the Obama administration.)

Growing up, I kept hearing about the great and powerful Chamber of Commerce, and how it was the defender of business. Being a naive conservative, I assumed “free market” and “pro-business” went together. Fortunately, the Chamber’s support of the bailout started my education, and Carney’s column last year about insurance companies- and, as such, the separation between “pro-business” and “pro-free markets” was the icing on the cake.

Going back to the Chamber’s mission statement, I would argue its ratings (and, related, some of its policy positions) violate the following portion of the statement: “advance human progress…based on individual freedom, incentive, initiative, opportunity, and responsibility.” Since when does supporting government bailouts, subsidies and other intrusions in the market increase human progress, individual freedom, initiative, opportunity and responsibility? (Hint: NEVER) One could argue incentive is helped by government intrusion, though obviously the Chamber and I disagree on where incentivizing should stop. Certainly, these sort of incentives violate the rest of the statement, and thus invalidate any defense of perverse government incentives.

Secondly, I would argue the Chamber is invalidating its very existence, which is to help businesses. Its site claims over 96% of the Chamber’s members are small businesses, with less than 100 employees. Since when does supporting items for big businesses (such as TARP) help those 96% of businesses that are too small to save?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Chamber has invalidated its mission or existence with its ratings. Last year, according to Carney (emphasis mine),

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., had the most conservative voting record in 2008 according to the American Conservative Union (ACU), and was a “taxpayer hero” according to the National Taxpayer’s Union (NTU), but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says his 2008 record was less pro-business than Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton.
This year’s picture was less glaring, but it’s still more evidence that “pro-business” is not the same as “pro-freedom.” The U.S. Chamber is the former. Ron Paul, and the libertarian position, is the latter.

David Boaz at CATO says it best, in response to the rating (emphasis mine):

But to suggest that Paul is wrong to vote against business subsidies — or that DeMint was wrong to vote against Bush’s 2008 stimulus package and the $700 billion TARP bailout – certainly does illustrate how much difference there can be between “pro-business” and “pro-market.” Instead of “Spirit of Enterprise,” the Chamber should call these the “Spirit of Subsidy Awards.”

For what they’re worth, the Chamber’s House ratings can be seen here.

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