Giving the Business the Business

After the 1994 election, two kinds of stories began to appear describing relations between the new Republican congressional majority and business groups. One kind depicted business leaders licking their chops, anticipating tax relief and relaxed regulation. As the GOP majority assumed power early in 1995, accounts in this vein told of business representatives moving at will within the corridors of power, brazenly rewriting statutes in their favor. The second type of article painted a different picture. It portrayed business leaders and lobbyists as anxious about the new political order created by the election. Business leaders voiced fears that Republican plans, especially those designed to reduce the deficit, cut taxes, and slash corporate subsidies, put the long-term health of the economy at risk. Concerns were also expressed, usually anonymously, over the political tactics employed by Republican leaders. Speaker Newt Gingrich, minority whip Tom DeLay, and others played hardball, bullying business representatives and demanding that they sever all ties to the Democrats.

Although the two kinds of stories seem at odds, both capture facets of how business has responded to the Republican triumph. The contrasts reflect the complexities of the political position of American business and the strategic moves of the new Republican leadership. Apart from a few brief intervals, American business has always been divided in its politics. Some corporate sectors have accustomed themselves to close working relations with the state, and have often found it prudent to support the Democratic party. For their part, the new Republican leaders have made it clear they intend to alter the political terrain in such a way as to force corporate leaders to rethink their political habits. At stake for the Republicans is nothing less than the final consolidation of the political regime Ronald Reagan began to construct in 1980. Their approach is designed to drive a wedge between business and the Democrats and to incorporate aut

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