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The Business of America When top Bush administration officials address the press in the White House briefing room, there are 49 seats. It’s a measure of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s clout that, when its staff set out nearly twice that number in advance of Chamber President Thomas Donohue’s annual State of American Business address last week, they had no trouble filling the room. After a speech outlining in broad strokes the Chamber’s public-policy goals, Donohue conceded that an election year would provide little opportunity to tackle them. “We’re going to be realistic about what we try to do,” he said, and “make sure other things don’t get done.” As always, tax increases rated near the top of that latter group, with Donohue describing the potential expiration of the Bush tax cuts in 2010 as “the biggest tax increase in history” and a sure bet to start — or worsen — a recession. But also apparent in the remarks was an attempt to highlight policies appealing to Democrats. Prominently noted were issues including revamping No Child Left Behind and worker education, strengthening intellectual property protection, and expanding health care coverage for workers. To maintain and expand the nation’s decrepit transportation infrastructure, Donohue suggested, his members were willing to support a gasoline tax hike or the imposition of a “carbon users fee,” which he declared is not “a tax in the traditional sense.” But Chamber membership, Donohue suggested, was only willing to bend so far. Asked about the aggressively hostile rhetoric coming from presidential candidates in both parties, Donohue suggested that their respective nominees cut it out after the primaries if they know what’s good for them. “Whoever the two final candidates are, they’ll have to face the same issues,” he said, adding that the victor is “not going to want to go into their first term in a fight with the Chamber of Commerce.” — Jeff Horwitz
Building Breaux-Lott On the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group’s first day in business, Trent Lott was at the firm’s 14th Street Northwest office, waiting for his wife to arrive with a truckload of furniture purchased from Lott’s former Senate office and scrounged from his house. The former Mississippi Republican senator and majority leader sounded almost giddy to be setting up shop with former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, a friend he’s known since they met in the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria in 1968. (Both were Democrats back then; Lott later switched parties.) Some of the policy matters passing through the office may be as familiar as the senator’s old furniture. Lott expects to be working on energy, maritime, health care, and transportation issues, all of which he and his partner handled in Congress. The initial staff will include only the former senators, their two sons, and three of their former staffers. But the company intends to make further hires, Lott says. If a company interested in the firm’s services requires expertise it can’t provide, Lott says, “we’ll try to go get [it]” from his and Breaux’s former staffers and contacts on the Hill and in rival lobby shops. “We’re financially conservative sorts of guys. We’re not going to bring in staff and then try to go get business,” Lott says. “We thought it would be better to do it the other way around.” — Jeff Horwitz
Keeping It Confidential Earlier this month, Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.) became the first member of Congress to disclose job talks (with the Managed Funds Association) under new ethics rules passed last year. Think that means he’s the only one negotiating a new gig? Think again. The new rules have been widely misinterpreted to mean that members of Congress and senior staffers must disclose serious job negotiations to the public. They don’t. Baker’s job negotiations had to be disclosed because he’s on a subcommittee with oversight over financial services companies, including hedge funds represented by the MFA, and he’s recusing himself. Without the recusal, the negotiations would have stayed among Baker, the MFA, and the House Ethics Committee. Staff members covered by the rules have to disclose their recusal only to the Ethics Committee. Craig Engle of Arent Fox says members and staff “should be allowed to conduct job searches in confidence, so long as they’re done ethically.” — Carrie Levine

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