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Obama jobs panel pushes tax reform, U.S. drilling

By Reuters
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 0:47 EDT
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s jobs council is calling for a corporate tax overhaul, expanded domestic drilling and new regulatory reforms, a set of proposals unlikely to provide a quick fix for high unemployment or gain much traction in an election year.

A panel of business leaders advising Obama — whose re-election chances could hinge on whether he can boost the fragile U.S. economy – will offer its latest job-creation prescriptions at a meeting with him on Tuesday. A draft of its report was obtained by Reuters.

Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness has generated dozens of ideas since it was created amid political fanfare last February, but implementation of some of its key recommendations has lagged and the overall benefits remain uncertain.

“There’s not one silver bullet on jobs,” General Electric Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt, who chairs the non-partisan panel, acknowledged in an interview before the report’s formal release at the White House.

Immelt insisted that a number of the panel’s earlier proposals, such as streamlining infrastructure building permits, were bearing fruit and the new ones deserved bipartisan support.

That could be a tall order in a divided Congress where the Democratic president’s jobs agenda has largely stalled in the face of Republican resistance and election-year gridlock.

LOFTY THEMES

While the council used two earlier reports to present specific, although mostly modest, jobs proposals, the latest – with the lofty title “Roadmap to Renewal” – lays out a broader strategy to promote manufacturing, education and innovation.

“Investing in our future, building on our strengths, and playing to win – these are mantras we must adopt, along with the specific policies and initiatives that back them up, if we are going to renew our competitiveness,” the report states.

This will be the focus of Obama’s meeting with the CEOs, the latest in a series of White House events aimed at showing voters he is serious about tackling unemployment.

The November 6 election is widely seen as a referendum on his economic leadership, and his record is under attack from Republican presidential contenders like front-runner Mitt Romney.

Among the steps the council sees as urgently needed is long-delayed reform of the corporate tax system, which it says is outdated and “hurts both business competitiveness and American workers.” “The council urges Congress and the administration to begin work on tax reform immediately,” the report says.

The panel calls for lowering corporate tax rates to “internationally competitive levels” while broadening the corporate tax base by eliminating deductions and loopholes.

But the report notes disagreement among council members over whether to shift to a “territorial” system that exempts most or all foreign income from corporate taxes when it is repatriated.

The administration said last summer it was developing a broad corporate tax reform plan, an idea Republicans have also pushed for years, but one never materialized.

The mammoth U.S. tax code has not been thoroughly overhauled in 25 years, and most analysts see little chance in an election year. But they expect that growing budget deficits and public dissatisfaction may open the door to reform efforts in 2013.

‘ALL-IN’ ENERGY STRATEGY

In a proposal likely to be opposed by environmentalists, the report calls for an “all in” strategy on energy that would seek to further exploit domestic fossil-fuel supplies to reduce reliance on foreign imports. But it also urges development of cleaner energy sources and promotion of energy efficiency.

“The Jobs Council recommends expanding and expediting the domestic production of fossil fuels – including allowing more access to oil, gas, and coal opportunities on federal lands – while ensuring safe and responsible development of those sites,” the report said.

In addition, the report called for a series of reforms to streamline government rules and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, which it said would enhance U.S. competitiveness.

Even though there is some common ground between Obama’s Democrats and opposition Republicans, little movement is expected on these issues between now and Election Day.

Obama’s strategy has been to cast Republicans as obstructing his economic recovery efforts, especially after they blocked much of his $447 billion jobs plan in September. Republicans charge that Obama has pursued failed spending policies.

The U.S. jobless rate dropped to a near three-year low of 8.5 percent in December, but employment remains about 6.1 million jobs below its pre-recession level.

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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