U.S. Chamber’s ‘Build Back Better’ stance puts biz in a bind – Crain’s Chicago Business


Welcome to Day 3 of Juice, Crain’s daily take on the intersection of power and policy in Chicago and beyond. On Wednesdays, Juice delivers insights on what’s happening in Washington that could affect Chicago’s business community. It’s brought to you by Crain’s contributor Dan Vock, a veteran public policy reporter who covered the Springfield scene for years before making the move to D.C. His work has appeared in Governing magazine, Politico, NPR Illinois, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and more.

So, here’s what’s cooking on and around Capitol Hill, courtesy of Dan:

The D.C. debate right now is dominated by discussions over what will and will not get into President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” effort. The reconciliation package was originally supposed to cost $3.5 trillion over 10 years, but moderate lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, balked at the size and scope of the effort. That has thrown almost everything into flux.

The U.S. Chamber bails on the infrastructure package: In a bit of Beltway intrigue, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce decided this month it is no longer backing a bipartisan infrastructure bill negotiated by moderate U.S. senators—at least not as long as it is paired with the reconciliation package. The chamber says the reconciliation package “will torpedo America’s fragile economic recovery and future prosperity with higher taxes and burdensome regulations.” It’s especially concerned with the provisions that, it says, will harm companies doing business overseas with higher taxes. 

This puts the U.S. Chamber—and a lot of businesses—in a tough bind. The chamber has been one of the biggest advocates of the infrastructure package, particularly on the right. Just a few weeks ago, it highlighted the potential impact on Illinois, especially its aviation industry:

“Last year over 87 million commercial passengers flew through the state. The states’ airports account for upwards of $50 billion in economic output and over 360,000 jobs. Recently, however, freight operators have diverted away from O’Hare International Airport due to congestion. Through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Illinois would greatly benefit from the $25 billion increase in airport funding.”

Illinois Chamber President and CEO Todd Maisch wouldn’t comment on the developments at the U.S. Chamber. He says the reconciliation package is “across-the-board negative,” because of its size and the tax increases likely to be included in it. But he supports the infrastructure bill, even though he thinks it is flawed. “We are for the infrastructure bill, no doubt about it. We want to see it passed,” he said. “But I don’t see the linkage getting severed, so that means both are at high risk.”

Bankruptcy bonuses: U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos got the results of a GAO report that she requested on companies that pay executives bonuses shortly before declaring or while in bankruptcy. According to her office

“The report found that in just FY 2020, during bankruptcy, 309 executives across 47 bankrupt companies were authorized to receive $207 million in incentive bonuses. The average bonuses authorized for these executives were $701,455. The maximum was $13,319,100.

“The report also found that in just FY 2020, right before filing bankruptcy, 42 companies awarded 223 executives approximately $165 million in retention bonuses. Some bonuses were issued just two days before filing.”

Bustos, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, is pushing legislation to end bankruptcy bonuses for employees making more than $250,000. She pointed to bonuses handed out to executives of Purdue Pharma, Hertz, Radio Shack and Toys R Us as they entered bankruptcy.