The contrasts between the political parties and those who fund their campaigns and lobby for legislation have never been more clear. In the midst of a global pandemic, which has shut down large parts of the economy, it is all too clear who is concerned with the health and financial well being of workers and the country as a whole. The chaotic federal response has been severely hampered by the effort of Republicans and the Trump administration to protect corporate profits. Being one of the largest contributors to republican politicians and one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington the Chamber of Commerce has had an outsized role in delaying federal relief efforts.
A report, entitled “Unmasked” produced by the Public Accountability Initiative and several partners, including the SEIU and CWA unions, the Partnership for Working Families, Action Center on Race and the Economy, Care Test Protect, and Bargaining for Common Good highlights the role of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in pulling policymakers away from the kind of wartime mobilization required to protect health care workers and treat those suffering from COVID-19.
The Chamber of Commerce actively lobbied the Trump administration against the usage of the Defense Production Act. Because contracts under the DPA do not pay as well as private contracts the larger members of the Chamber who control the majority of the seats on the board did not want it initiated. This has caused a major delay in the acquisition of sorely needed medical safety supplies and caused states and hospitals to compete with each other and the federal government for access to available supplies. A very small percentage of the masks and ventilators that the Trump administration had promised has actually been delivered, with most not scheduled until the fall. Put into effect early in the evolution of the Corona outbreak those supplies could already be in the hands of medical professionals as we reach the peak of infections and deaths.
The Chamber of Commerce also lobbied against paid sick leave and other worker protections in response to the outbreak. While paid sick leave was addressed in the initial bill it could exclude nearly 20 million private-sector workers, including an exemption for small businesses that are causing confusion as to how it will be implemented. The law exempts companies with more than 500 employees and gives the Labor Department the ability to exclude companies with less than 50 employees.
Republicans also managed to include provisions in the bill that have allowed large corporate hotel and restaurant chains to cash in on what was supposed to be a loan program for small businesses. These large businesses were able to access those funds if their single locations employed less than 50 workers. This problem was only made worse by President Trump’s refusal to allow for the oversight added to the bill by Democrats to monitor where the money was going. With the original pool of funds completely depleted many small businesses were left without help during the current shutdown. Small businesses always struggle to maintain viability during economic downturns and as they close, corporate-run businesses fill those gaps leaving consumers with even fewer choices.
Through three separate relief packages, it has become abundantly clear that republicans’ main concern is for those that have the most and management over labor. They have consistently fought against economic assistance for average Americans. They have fought against paid sick leave for employees. They have fought against corporations acting in the national interest. At the urging of the Chamber of Commerce, they have included every provision possible to protect the profits and structural advantages of businesses deemed too big to fail at the expense of workers and the nation.