Over the past few months, the Business Roundtable has sent a clear message to Washington with a successful multi-million dollar campaign to push back corporate tax increases. But while companies send messages on societal issues like climate change, racial equity and voting rights, they don’t back their words with actions, especially now when we have the unique opportunity. to support federal legislation. meet these challenges. The authors recommend that 1) the Business Roundtable conduct a large-scale campaign to support the most ambitious climate provisions in the budget proposed by the Biden administration, and 2) that the business community support essential legislation to strengthen voting systems. and election of the United States.
Over the past 18 months, America has experienced an unprecedented uproar: a global pandemic, an economic recession, a controversial presidential election, the violent siege of the U.S. Capitol, and restrictive election laws in several states. The United States has seen a decline in the quality of life since 2011, according to a rigorous analysis of the Social Progress Index. The American dream that we have long cherished is under threat. And despite continued economic growth, the business environment has eroded.
Most disappointing in this era of government inaction is the lack of conviction on the part of the business community to find solutions. Public messaging for businesses has changed dramatically in recent years, placing much more emphasis on societal issues such as climate change, racial fairness and voting rights. Yet today, when we are presented with a unique opportunity to support federal legislation to address these challenges, business leaders are not backing their words with deeds.
While companies have been absent from climate and election law, America’s largest business group – the Business Roundtable, which represents around 200 CEOs – demonstrated its influence on results in Washington when ‘he is mobilizing there. Over the past few months, the Business Roundtable has waged a successful multi-million dollar campaign to push back corporate tax increases, deploying CEOs for press opportunities, lobbying lawmakers directly, and investing in major media buys. The campaign sent a clear message to leaders in Washington: Tax rates are non-negotiable and support for the Business Roundtable depends on your political position.
Why not send the same non-negotiable message on the climate and the preservation of democracy?
The good news, however, is that it’s not too late. In the coming weeks, businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to be part of the solution at a crucial time as the Reconciliation Bill, Major Infrastructure Bill and Election Bills are passed by the Congress. The Business Roundtable can prove once again that American businesses are serious about responding to pressing climate and democracy risks. And this type of action is certainly not without precedent. In 2006, Walmart CEO Lee Scott was part of a group of leading CEOs who vigorously supported the renewal of the Voting Rights Act by Congress, recognizing that equal access to the vote was essential for its employees and customers. It was adopted with bipartisan support and was signed by President Bush. In November 2020, business associations and CEOs were united in their support for the legitimacy of the presidential election results and the condemnation of the insurgency that followed. A peaceful transfer of power took place to President Biden on January 20, 2021.
What would such leadership look like now?
First, the Business Roundtable can lead a large-scale campaign to support the most ambitious climate provisions in the administration’s proposed budget. This would align with its historic support for evidence-based climate policies, such as carbon pricing, that reward climate progress. We cannot underestimate the importance of getting it right. The last time Congress had a chance to address climate change was over a decade ago, when a climate bill failed in Washington by the tiniest of margins. Inaction now would solidify deep environmental risks in the decades to come. And as world leaders gather in Scotland for the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, failure to tackle climate change would further undermine America’s credibility and slow global climate efforts.
Second, the business community can support essential legislation to strengthen our voting and election systems, the centerpiece of which is the compromise free voting legislation proposed by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. This pragmatic bill, aimed at normalizing our current state-by-state patchwork system, would ensure that every American can participate in elections and prevent future efforts to foster electoral violence or discredit legitimate elections by isolating the results of partisan actors. . We face risks to our democracy unprecedented in our country’s history – the United States has been demoted from a full democracy to an imperfect democracy by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, a third of Americans believe President Biden won as a result of electoral fraud, and Americans’ confidence in the government has fallen to 24%. This bill will be an important first step in fixing the system and our confidence in it.
A change from the traditional way in which companies exert political influence is also long overdue, and the need for a change does not arise only from the political frustrations of the moment. Our decades of research and experience have shown that government alone is unable to respond effectively to our current challenges, partisanship being a major obstacle to consensus and solutions. If CEOs continue to lobby solely for their short-term self-interest, not only will America’s competitiveness suffer, but it will prove that the role of business in Washington is the status quo and that CEOs do not deserve the relatively high confidence Americans have in business. compared to our other institutions.
Moving forward on these issues takes courage. Many of the executives we speak with are deeply concerned about the failure of our policy and want to meet the expectations of their employees. However, CEOs also fear partisan struggles and are increasingly wary of political retaliation, a disturbing tactic that we see regularly deployed by autocratic governments and political leaders and never imagined happening in the United States. . In April, Georgia lawmakers threatened Delta with new taxes after opposing a restrictive voting rights bill. That same month, Florida Senator Marco Rubio threatened to cancel Sodexo’s catering contract when its executives backed voting rights legislation. These incidents underscore the urgency for the business community to adopt a united stance.
Failure to reach agreement today on legislation the United States urgently needs could take our country down a dangerous path of polarization, environmental crisis, and even a crisis of constitutional legitimacy. Bold corporate innovation has long been a source of American competitiveness. Now we need to muster our courage and apply the same innovation in business engagement in politics and politics. The stakes for America could not be higher.