The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s top official said he has been advising lawmakers against a federal government shutdown, which he said could have a negative effect on the economy if stretched beyond a few days.
“I’ve been telling people it is a bad idea to shut down the government,” chamber president Thomas Donohue told reporters Friday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “I hope we don’t shut down government because that is just a pain in the neck.”
Donohue said that while a three- or four-day shutdown would likely have little effect on the economy, a closure that extended three or four weeks could cause economic ripples not only in the Washington, D.C., area but beyond.
Chamber officials, however, said the bigger concern is the contentious fight over raising the debt limit, which is likely to occur later this spring. The business group has been lobbying for Congress to raise the debt limit to avoid economic disruptions.
However, the chamber president said he expected that any legislation that authorized such debt increases would likely include a number of policy issues that address fiscal or regulatory matters.
“It doesn’t have to be a clean debt limit,” Donohue said.
Last year the chamber actively supported many tea-party-backed conservative candidates who are now balking at raising the debt limit and have expressed willingness to shut down the government if they can’t achieve budget cuts.
But Donohue said the major challenges to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have not come from the freshmen but from established GOP incumbents such as Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn) and Mike Pence (Ind.) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.).
“They have all been around for a while,” he said.
Donohue spent the first two years of the Obama administration feuding with the Democratic president over issues ranging from health care to financial reform. But since the election, in which Republicans gained control of the House and made gains in the Senate, Donohue said Obama has made efforts to reach out to the business community.
“We appreciate some of the things the president has done to change his song,” Donohue said. ”I think what we are having is a maturing of the president ... I don’t think he has made a philosophical shift in what he believes and who he is. He is accommodating himself to the most challenging job in the world.”
In particular, Donohue praised the president for supporting a number of free-trade pacts, including a tentative deal involving Colombia that was rolled out this week by the White House.
Donohue said that while the chamber does not get involved in presidential contests, he expects the business group to be actively involved in the 2012 House and Senate races.
“We will be in the Senate in a big way,” he said. Donohue also said there will also be a focus on the House, where party control has turned over twice since 2006.
“One has to be almost paranoid about the House,” Donohue said.