WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce finds itself on the same side as environmental groups and labor unions on a budget cut that House Republicans pushed in Wednesday's failed temporary spending bill.
In a letter obtained by The Huffington Post, the Chamber, one of the most influential organizations among conservatives, told members of the Senate that Congress should pass disaster aid funding, but stopped just short of insisting there be no cuts to the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program. The program, which provides loans to auto manufacturers, encourages them to build more efficient vehicles in the United States.
"[T]he program was authorized in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was supported by both Republicans and Democrats as an important step in reducing America’s dependence on oil from unstable regimes," wrote R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs for the Chamber.
Josten pointed out the ATVM loans will be repaid with interest and described the program as providing new opportunities for "American workers in a sector of the economy that is critical to the nation's recovery."
Josten wrote that all programs should be evaluated for purposes of reducing the federal debt, but still tried to sway lawmakers away from targeting the ATVM program.
Earlier this week, a coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, joined with the United Steel Workers and United Auto Workers in sending a letter to members of Congress opposing cuts to the same program.
Kim Hill, associate director of research at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., told HuffPost that the program's funding has been directly responsible for car makers moving production from other countries to the United States.
"Where we sit here in Michigan, that actually was disaster relief. This region of the country was going to fall apart if some of these companies failed," Hill said.
Prior to Wednesday's House vote on the temporary spending bill, 108 Democrats had signed a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urging him not to cut the program. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decried the House GOP for seeking to slash what he called a "jobs program."
Reps. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) were the first in the House to sound the alarm on the proposed cuts to the ATVM loan program. "They targeted a program that created jobs ... and one that did what we're all united on. It brought jobs back to the United States," Peters told HuffPost.
During debate on the floor Wednesday, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) defended cuts to the program, repeatedly saying that much of the money has been sitting idle and therefore all of the funding wasn't needed.
But the Chamber pushed back on Rogers' claim.
"[T]he fact that the Department of Energy has yet to use the funds Congress appropriated for the program is not the fault of industry. Numerous loan applicants have been in the queue for years, waiting for the Administration to complete its due diligence," Josten wrote.
House Republicans had sought $1.5 billion in cuts to the loan program. In part, the money saved would have been redirected to disaster recovery, but about one-third simply would have been returned to the treasury. Republicans first proposed making cuts to the program back in May to pay for the cleanup after tornadoes devastated Missouri.
On Wednesday, nearly all Democrats in the House voted against the continuing resolution, which did not pass.
The National Association of Manufacturers on Thursday also put out a letter to the Senate, opposing cuts to the ATVM program.
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