For months, the Business Roundtable has been a thorn in the side of the Biden administration as it spent millions to lobby Washington, including a push to kill the president’s chief piece of domestic policy legislation.
But Democrats are hoping that things might be looking up.
That’s because the new head of the Business Roundtable — a nonprofit association of the nation’s top CEOs — has been a public supporter of the Build Back Better bill.
Earlier this year, General Motors CEO Mary Barra took the helm of the Business Roundtable, just as her company was arguing that BBB “puts the country on the path toward addressing important issues.” General Motors has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040 and the BBB framework championed by the Biden administration would include a provision that would grant up to $12,500 in tax credits for those who buy electric vehicles.
The White House views Barra as an ally on this front. She joined President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday as part of a meeting of CEOs in support of the Build Back Better Act; while there, she thanked the president for the chance to speak about their “aligned goals as it relates to converting to an all-electric future.”
But people close to General Motors and the Business Roundtable emphasized that Barra is taking on a balancing act as she becomes the face of one of the most powerful groups in Washington’s business community. The association’s stance on BBB remains unchanged, having very publicly urged lawmakers to reject the president’s domestic policy agenda. General Motors’ stance remains unchanged, too, even as the two share a common emissary. A White House official said that Barra was invited to the event on Wednesday in her capacity as chair and CEO of General Motors, not as chair of the Business Roundtable.
A person close to General Motors’ thinking said that as a rotating face of the Business Roundtable, Barra does not drive the nonprofit group’s agenda. Its stance is driven by consensus of its members, the person said, and even though the Business Roundtable is steadfastly against the bill’s tax provisions, General Motors remains committed to the electric vehicle components.
“General Motors has been very clear about our support for Build Back Better, particularly the climate change provisions that will accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and support to build out US supply chain,” said Jeannine Ginivan, a spokesperson for General Motors, in a statement. “Mary was at the White House this week to support Build Back Better. She was there in her role as chair and CEO of General Motors.”
Ginivan referred comment on the Business Roundtable’s position to the association itself.
When asked about the apparent contradiction between the position of Business Roundtable and its new chair, the group offered a statement that carefully threaded the needle between endorsing the bill’s climate change provisions and criticizing its tax increases.
“Business Roundtable supports investment in climate change programs and incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we oppose harmful tax increases on job creators,” said the group’s CEO, Joshua Bolten. “We believe that the economy as a whole will suffer if Congress adopts the sweeping and anticompetitive tax increases included in the House-passed bill.”
The Business Roundtable is consistently one of the top-spending trade associations in Washington, investing less on lobbying in 2021 than only the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the National Association of Realtors.
The $29.1 million the trade group spent on lobbying last year is the highest in more than two decades, according to data from Open Secrets, surpassing the $27.4 million the Roundtable spent in 2017 as it lobbied for passage of the GOP tax cuts. The group has run a series of digital ads, sometimes targeting Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s state of West Virginia or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Arizona, seeking to bolster opposition to tax increases before Congress.
Barra’s selection to lead the group was a win for the White House. She hosted the president at a General Motors facility in November as the president ventured to Detroit to sell the administration’s infrastructure law. At the end of the Trump administration, once Biden’s electoral win became clear, General Motors reversed its support for an administration lawsuit that called into question California’s ability to impose its vehicle pollution standards. The president and Barra appeared in a video together, pushed by the White House on Wednesday, in which Barra said she was “so happy to support your agenda on climate change and getting to an all EV future.”
In a statement, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates emphasized that General Motors has “expressed strong support” for the legislation.