When more than a dozen corporate CEOs arrived at the White House on Thursday morning to discuss how to increase U.S. exports, President Barack Obama had a lot more to offer than just promises to try to improve his rocky relations with business.
In the past week, Obama has nailed down a free trade deal with South Korea languishing since 2007, and delivered big new tax cuts for investment, a key part of the deal reached Monday with congressional Republicans. Both were long-sought goals of the business community.
“The things that occurred in the past of couple days are extraordinary,” said Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, chairman of the Business Roundtable, at an event Wednesday. The president “has shown a willingness to learn.”
The Business Roundtable once included many CEO members who were big Obama supporters, but during the midterm campaign Seidenberg joined other CEOs in attacking the president for anti-business policies. Just two weeks ago, an official from his organization said that “relationship-building” on the part of the White House was no substitute for policy.
But relationships plus tangible results may be a different matter.
And the outreach if anything has only increased.
Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told POLITICO recently that she would be seeking opportunities for the president to interact more with business leaders, and this week has shown evidence of those efforts.
On Wednesday, while his top aides tried to fend off charges that the president’s tax deal with Republicans shortchanged the poor and gave away too much to the rich, Obama held an Oval Office meeting with JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon.
Dimon, a big Obama supporter in 2008 who was reportedly under consideration for the Treasury secretary job, later accused the president of trying to vilify bank executives and foment class conflict. He is just the kind of chief executive that Obama wants to woo back.
And today, while the AFL-CIO and steelworkers union continued their criticism of the trade deal with Korea, which is expected to boost U.S. exports by $11 billion a year, Obama took something of a victory lap, celebrating with CEOs including Boeing chief executive W. James McNerny.
The agreement was a leading objective of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of Obama’s most effective opponents but lately the object of an administration charm offensive. In his remarks Thursday morning, the president took note of the group’s support.
“It’s an agreement supported by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and Americans on all sides of the political spectrum –- from the UAW to the Chamber of Commerce,” Obama said. “And I look forward to working with Congress and leaders in both parties to approve it — because if there’s one thing we should all agree on, it’s creating jobs and opportunity for the American people.”
Obama also made a strong pitch for the tax cut deal as vital to economic recovery, saying the economy will move “backward” if Congress doesn’t approve the deal.
“Every economist that I've talked to or that I've read over the last couple of days agrees that this agreement will boost economic growth over the next couple of years and has the potential to create millions of jobs," Obama said, a day after economic adviser Larry Summers pointedly warned that the U.S. could fall back into a recession if the deal is not passed.
That deal preserves the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts for higher income individuals, a key goal for business leaders who claim that many of these high earners are small businessmen that use their earnings to grow businesses.
It also includes a $180 billion tax cut for businesses that make new investments, which Seidenberg said Wednesday will help unleash the trillions of dollars of profits that corporations have been sitting on since the 2008 financial crisis.
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