WASHINGTON -- Tea party-backed candidates who have already taken aim at Democrats and big-government spending could also declare war on federal programs important to American business, Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, warned Tuesday.
Josten said many of the tea party-backed candidates, who are self-styled anti-establishment "populists," might work to kill off federal programs they see as nothing more than "corporate welfare," even though the business community touts their job-creating benefits.
Another Chamber of Commerce official noted it supported Republican Senate candidates such as Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida, who "have been commonly referred to as 'tea party candidates."'
The conservative tea party movement has grown in strength through the year, knocking off a handful of establishment Republican candidates in party primaries, by pushing an agenda focused on reducing spending, cutting taxes, and limiting government.
Josten noted that tea party-backed candidates who win election to Congress in November may push to kill, for example, the U.S.-run Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, both of which help assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services and aid American businesses investing overseas.
"There's going to be a certain amount of populist candidates that get elected that probably are not going to share some of the views of some of the business organizations in town," Josten told the Reuters Washington Summit.
While the Chamber of Commerce supports dismantling some federal crop supports, such as for cotton and sugar producers, tea party members of Congress "may want to go even further" by killing a "host of (farm) subsidies," said Josten, whose is executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. taxpayers will spend about $7 billion next year helping corn, wheat, soybean, and other farmers.
Republican Sen. John McCain told the Reuters Washington Summit Monday that the rise of the tea party would put pressure on big government spending on lawmakers' pet projects.
"I think if there's anything about the tea party movement — there are many things the tea party movement is about, but one of them is, they are tired of this earmarking, pork-barreling corruption. So I think we need to address that issue straight on," McCain said.
Many of the programs Republicans, including McCain and tea party activists, have talked about cutting would achieve only minor savings in a huge federal budget.
Business groups have complained that President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress have imposed onerous new rules, from a massive financial industry reform law to historic healthcare reforms.
But a Republican win in Nov. 2 congressional elections with the help of the tea party could cause new problems for the business community.
Amid record U.S. budget deficits and a public backlash against federal spending, federal subsidies for corporations could also be the target of a tea party attack. Some oil company tax breaks already have been targeted by Democrats.
Josten predicted that about half of the new Republicans who will win seats in the House in November would have tea party ties.
A couple also could land seats in the Senate, where they could collaborate with some Republican conservatives to form a "pretty solid handful of votes," Josten said.
He sees the tea party extending its influence in various ways, even though political observers do not expect Republicans to pick up a veto-proof majority in Congress.
Although major initiatives, such as repealing healthcare reform, will be beyond reach without a veto-proof majority, Josten said a newly powerful conservative contingent could take a "rifle-shot" approach by trying to pick off the most objectionable parts of healthcare reform, or by cutting back on some Medicare health programs for the elderly.
Josten said it was unclear what the House would or even could do if Republicans win control with a contingent of tea party-backed candidates.
"You hear some views that some members of the tea party, like the progressives on the left, don't want their members to be compromising at all," Josten said.
"I don't think we know the answers to how the 111th Congress is going to kind of oil the wheels to move forward."
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