Revealed: Chamber lobbied against 9/11 health bill to save foreign members on taxes

By Nathan Diebenow
Saturday, December 18th, 2010

The US Chamber of Commerce lobbied to kill a bill that would have helped cover medical expenses and compensation for first responders and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to documents available online.

The Chamber's aim was to keep open a tax loophole benefiting foreign corporations that the $7.4 billion bill would have closed to provide funding for the American emergency workers.

In a letter opposing the 9/11 bill, R. Bruce Josten, the Chamber's executive vice president for Government Affairs, cautioned that closing the tax loophole would harm US trade relationships and financial markets.

"In typical fashion, the Chamber has not revealed which of its foreign members had asked them to kill the 9/11 bill," Lee Fang of wrote.

The Chamber sought to defeat Democrats during this year's election season, fought against comprehensive health reform in 2009, and pulled out all the stops to weaken Democrats' financial reform legislation. They also helped mount corporate-funded campaigns against climate legislation and sought to weaken an anti-bribery law.

Democrats and many liberal blogs alleged that the Chamber had used money donated by foreign corporations to influence US elections, but US election law is such that the Chamber was not forced to disclose its sources.

In recent months, dozens and dozens of local business groups have distanced from or broken ties with the national Chamber in key primary states because of its partisan leanings toward Republican candidates and conservative business interests.

“We didn’t like the fact that the US Chamber was supporting particular candidates,” Greater Hudson Chamber executive VP Jerry Mayotte told The Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire. “We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so. ... We take stands on particular issues considering business, but not particular candidates."

The Chamber spent over $600 million to influence politics since 1998. It dwarfed even the second-place American Medical Association's $220 million in the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Senate was unable to overcome a Republican-led filibuster against the 9/11 first responders health care bill, even though all but one Democrat voted for it. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) voted against the bill, changing from "yes" to "no" at the last minute as a procedural tactic so that the bill could be brought up again later.

With prior reporting by Daniel Tencer and John Byrne. Editing by Stephen C. Webster.