News: Analysis & Commentary
HOW THE ELECTION LOOKS FROM THE CORNER OFFICE
The Republicans' election sweep has business cheering. Many CEOs expect a Conservative Congress to get down to business fast on issues close to their hearts: deficit reduction and trade, to name two. And they predict a friendlier reception on Capitol Hill. But some execs worry that the GOP will neglect social problems. The other big fear? That the bitter election will mean business as usual: divisiveness and gridlock.
--Michele Galen and bureau reports
As chief executive of a major health insurer, Humana Inc.'s David A. Jones believes the GOP's gains could lead to some progress in cutting entitlements. But because moderates and conservatives have dominated Capitol Hill for some time, he doesn't expect great changes. "I don't think it matters a whole lot who gets elected," Jones says. He believes that market forces already have pared private health-insurance costs and that states are reforming health insurance. But federal Medicare and Medicaid spending is soaring. With the medical budget growing so rapidly, says Jones, "even the dimmest member of Congress is bound to notice."
A lifelong Democrat with close ties to the Clinton Administration, Bernard L. Schwartz fears the GOP victories portend a divided government. "This is not a time for either the country or American business to have an uncertain or indecisive leadership," the chief executive says. Schwartz faults the Democrats for pushing "a comprehensive social-change agenda without a bipartisan consensus." He urges the Administration to "take Republicans into consultation earlier." Schwartz isn't expecting the election's outcome to have much of an impact on Loral Corp., a defense electronics company. "Most of the hard work of pruning defense has already been done," he says.
The caliber of the new Congress is just one thing worrying the chief executive of industrial-products maker W.H. Brady Co. Katherine M. Hudson is a Republican, but she's disturbed by the social views of many incoming GOPers. "To the extent it's part of a Republican platform to deny women their own destiny, I won't vote for them. It's easier to teach economics to Democrats than abortion [rights] to Republicans," she says. Hudson urges more deficit cuts. But she fears Congress may be hobbled by infighting. "The question is what can go forward," she says. "Just as the Democrats aren't together on issues, I'm not sure the Republicans are either."
The ardent Republican predicts the GOP will move to pass a slew of legislation, including term limits and a balanced-budget amendment. "I'd expect that to happen fast," says. John D. Ong of B.F. Goodrich Co. Ong is relieved that the Republican-controlled Congress will blunt some of Clinton's regulatory initiatives in the labor area. But he gives Clinton high marks for his efforts to address Superfund problems and hopes to see effective reauthorization of a bill, now that the Republicans aren't as likely to use it as a political weapon. Ong also thinks that with the GOP in the driver's seat, that long-sought business goal, product-liability reform, finally will pass.
The chief executive of biotechnology pioneer Genentech Inc. was among the cadre of California high-tech executives who backed Bill Clinton in 1992, only to be deeply disappointed by his attacks on the drug industry during the health-reform debate. G. Kirk Raab expects more help from the incoming Congress. "The new leadership will see biotech as the kind of industry that's the future of America." Raab also sees benefits from the overhaul of congressional staffers who play a key role in drafting legislation. "It's a very positive thing for business," Raab says. "The Republican staff will be more oriented to free enterprise."
A Republican who votes independently, Jerry R. Junkins of Texas Instruments Inc. wants the newly empowered GOP to quickly start dealing with such longstanding issues as welfare and taxes. "Many of the areas that the Republicans have been talking about are things the country would welcome," Junkins says. His biggest concern is trade. As chairman of the Alliance for GATT Now, he's hopeful Congress this year will pass the Uruguay Round of the GATT treaty. If the vote slides, he fears the deal could unravel. "That would be a tragedy," says Junkins, "because increased international trade is what's going to pay for a lot of what the Republicans have been talking about."