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Chamber: Bypass Fiscal Cliff, Add Energy to Discussion

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Donohue plans to press lawmakers to avoid the fiscal cliff and discuss energy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce may have backed losing candidates in the just-concluded election, but the 100-year-old big-business lobby has no plans to retreat when it comes to playing politics.

“We’re in the political business for the long run. Period,” said Thomas Donohue, the chamber’s president and CEO, during a Tuesday briefing with reporters. He said the chamber will work with Congress and the White House to craft a grand deal to overhaul the tax system and entitlements and propose new domestic energy policies to help ease politicians’ headache of cutting spending and raising taxes.

Donohue added that even though the chamber supported the opponents of winning candidates such as Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Sen.-elect Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the group plans to work with any member it can. “We sure wish we did better in the Senate,” he said.

But “not one bit of it was personal,” Donohue added. “We will work with those people who choose to work with us.”

He also defended the chamber’s dealings with the Obama administration, including confrontations on several top issues such as health care and the Dodd-Frank financial legislation. The chamber does not make endorsements on the presidential level.

But when a reporter asked if he was worried about retribution from the White House, Donohue said he’s been in this town for a long time: “I’m not worried about anybody coming after me.

“We’ve still got a pretty damn good brand,” he added.

Donohue said he planned to bring that brand — and its expansive grass-roots network — to press lawmakers over the coming weeks to avoid the fiscal cliff and to buy themselves time for comprehensive tax and entitlement reforms.

The lobby also wants to take the discussion beyond taxes and spending — adding what it called a “third bucket”: energy. Domestic energy production would create jobs and additional tax revenue, Donohue said.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for our nation,” he said. “Every dollar in revenue generated from energy is a dollar we won’t have to cut from our defense or entitlements, or raise in taxes.”

“If we get this right, this is a huge deal for this country,” the chamber’s top lobbyist Bruce Josten said.

Toward the end of the briefing, Donohue noted that the chamber’s 300,000 members may not necessarily be of one mind when it comes to the tax system. His membership, he said, has a varied opinion on the matter.

Oil, Gas Fear the Fiscal Cliff

Add oil and gas companies to the chorus of industries trying to escape fiscal cliff negotiations unscathed.

The American Petroleum Institute is asking lawmakers not to raise taxes on the industry or cut its tax deductions as the lame-duck Congress reconvenes in Washington, D.C., to stave off impending fiscal crisis.

The trade organization is bolstering its plea with a round of television and print advertisements targeting Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Warner of Virginia, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska.

The group is particularly worried that a proposal backed by Senate Democrats to end several industry tax breaks might make its way into a compromise between Republicans and the White House.

“With new taxes, U.S. oil and gas projects are less attractive and foreign projects more attractive,” said Khary Cauthen, senior director of federal relations at API. “Targeting our industry for tax hikes is also based on a mistaken assumption that we don’t pay our fair share of taxes and that we are heavily subsidized.”

Brian Johnson, the organization’s senior tax adviser, said API is already reaching out to leadership in both parties, as well as those of the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees. “Our conversations on the hill are certainly not one-sided,” he said.

John Watson, chairman and CEO of Chevron, will likely make the case when he and almost a dozen corporate executives meet with President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

K Street Moves

Kountoupes Consulting is putting new partner Lori Denham’s name on the door, turning the firm into Kountoupes/Denham.

“She’s a tireless worker and a relentless advocate,” said Lisa Kountoupes, the firm’s founder. “Our clients have come to rely on her extraordinary commitment and the results our firm delivers.”

The bipartisan firm’s clients include Intel, Netflix, Yahoo, Best Buy, Pepco Holdings Inc., Philips Medical Systems, AdvaMed and the American Chemistry Council.

Denham worked on Capitol Hill for almost 14 years as a senior aide to then-Rep. Cal Dooley, D-Calif., and she was a lobbyist for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Please send tips to kstreet@rollcall.com.

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