President Barack Obama sat down for a long morning of talks with powerful CEOs Wednesday, seeking to spur hiring amid high unemployment and mend ties with corporate America after an election drubbing.
Obama was meeting privately with 20 heads of top firms including Google, American Express, PepsiCo and General Electric, as he seeks to unleash growth, exports and job creation with crippling unemployment near 10 percent.
“I believe that the primary engine of America’s economic success is not government, it is the ingenuity of America’s entrepreneurs, it is the dynamism of our markets,” Obama said before entering the talks.
“This morning I hope to elicit ideas from these business leaders that will not only help us climb out of recession but seize the promise of this moment.
“I look forward to talking to them this morning and working with them in the months and years to come,” Obama said, saying he wanted input on tax reform, regulation that would promote growth and how to encourage investment.
The White House would like to see American firms, which are sitting on billions of dollars of financial reserves, pour money into investment and expansion.
On Tuesday, Obama also sought corporate expertise as he discussed the economy and philanthropy in the Oval Office with America’s two richest men, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and billionaire financier Warren Buffett.
And on Friday, at a time when he is facing a backlash with his left-wing base over tax compromises he wrought with rival Republicans, Obama will follow up the CEO talks by meeting labor leaders to talk economics.
White House officials have cautioned that Wednesday’s meeting, at the Blair House guest house opposite the White House, should not be seen as a “summit,” styling it more as a private “working group” to mull ideas for growth.
They also dispute a media narrative suggesting that Obama disdains corporate America which took hold as the president lambasted Wall Street excess as he passed a financial regulatory reform bill earlier this year.
But the US Chamber of Commerce poured millions of dollars into election campaigns targeting members of Obama’s Democratic Party in November 2 congressional polls and has criticized aspects of his economic policy.
And some in the business community have also criticized Obama’s biggest legislative achievement — the health care overhaul passed early this year — warning it could increase their costs, though the White House says it will do the opposite.
Obama, licking his wounds after his rebuke from voters in November, has infuriated Democrats by making a deal with Republicans that will see tax cuts for the rich passed by ex-president George W. Bush renewed at the end of the year.
The president says the deal, which also includes an extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed and a cut in payroll taxes for all workers in a bid to boost the economy, must be passed to avoid damaging the fragile economy.
Obama will likely seek to build support among the business lobby for the tax deal, set to pass the Senate shortly but which likely will face a tougher ride in a “lame duck” session of the Democrat-led House of Representatives before Republicans take over next year.
He will also likely tout his recently renegotiated free trade pact with South Korea — a key plank of his strategy to promote job and economic growth by boosting exports.
There are also reports that Obama, seeking to rebuild support in the center ground and among independent voters who deserted him in November, may step into the lion’s den and address the Chamber of Commerce