U.S. Chamber President Criticizes GOP’s ‘Intramural’ Battle Over Bain

The “Battle Over Bain” has become a hot topic at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a key player in politics.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue says he is “disappointed” that some GOP presidential candidates are attacking front-runner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for his work at Bain Capital in the 1990s.

“I was very disappointed with the intramural carrying on within the Republican Party,” Donohue told reporters Thursday morning. Romney’s record as a businessman is “damn good,” he added.

Donohue, who heads the nation’s most powerful pro-business association, defended Romney because “at least he has experience” running a private company. “We wish that would be what people focus on,” he added.

Before entering politics, Romney was chief executive officer of Boston-based Bain & Company, and co-founder of Bain Capital, which became one of the largest and most profitable private equity funds in the country.

Donohue was asked about the GOP presidential primary campaign at a press conference following his annual “State of American Business” address. Instead of asking about the economy, the first reporter to rise asked a question about the GOP divide over Bain.

“I think it’s just been foolish for the Republicans to carry on that line of attack because they aren’t doing anything but setting up the ad base for their opponent,” he said. “I think you are going to see it quiet down.”

In recent days, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have been sharply criticizing Romney’s actions while heading Bain Capital, a private equity firm that bought and sold companies to turn a profit. In many cases, workers lost jobs after Bain purchased their companies.

In the days leading up to the Jan. 21 GOP primary in South Carolina, Perry has been describing Romney as a “vulture capitalist.” In a state where unemployment has exceeded 9 percent for more than three years, Perry has been calling attention to closed factories, saying Bain cut jobs during Romney’s years there.

Romney defends any plant closings and layoffs as the routine result of capitalism at work. Donohue agreed, saying “if you don’t take a risk, you can’t have success.”

But critics say Bain was more concerned with closing operations to turn a quick profit than with growing jobs over time. The debate over Bain’s role in the economy is dividing conservatives.

Bruce Josten, executive vice president at the Chamber, jumped in to add that “attacking the private-enterprise system is not going to move this country forward.”

Donohue said he understands why some Americans who have lost jobs are open to the argument that some capitalists go too far in cutting operations. “You gotta have someone to blame,” he said.

But he said such criticism was being misdirected. When it comes to maximizing job creation, “this system has proven itself again and again,” he said.

In his annual speech, Donohue said the U.S. economy is “improving” as the new year begins, but expects it to slow again as the winter goes on. “We expect growth to average about 2.5 percent in the first half (of 2012) and then work its way back to about 3 percent by the end of the year.”

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