WASHINGTON — The White House has enlisted the business community to pressure Republican lawmakers to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, forging an unlikely alliance with traditionally Republican-leaning groups in response to growing fear that the country could default on its debt.
President Obama, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke to nearly 150 business executives on a conference call Friday with an update on their efforts to avoid a default, according to the White House.
After the call ended, Jarrett met with lobbyists for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Financial Services Roundtable and other business groups representing aerospace and technology companies. During the meeting, Jarrett and Brian Deese, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, asked the business groups to encourage their member companies to communicate with lawmakers on the urgency of finding a negotiated solution, according to a person at the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Many firms have already begun such efforts. Alarmed by the standoff in Washington, companies such as Caterpillar are encouraging their employees to call and write lawmakers to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
Trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber are also discussing an unprecedented step: supporting more moderate candidates in primaries. In the past, the groups have gone to enormous lengths to support mostly Republican campaigns — but only to beat Democrats, not other Republicans.
Until last week, many in the business community have been standing on the sidelines, trusting that Republicans would work out their internal squabbling. But with some companies already seeing a drag on their businesses from the shutdown, executives are getting involved far beyond the usual menu of interests such as taxes and regulations.
Eaton, an energy management firm with 30,000 employees and $22 billion in annual sales, invited its workers Friday to contact members of Congress on the budget impasse and the need for bipartisan compromise and cooperation.
Caterpillar chief executive Doug Oberhelman wrote a letter to employees encouraging them to sign a petition asking Congress to raise the debt ceiling. And the U.S. Chamber is doing research on key states where it can battle back against tea party candidates willing to use the country’s debt repayments as a bargaining chip.