By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said corporate America has done well under his economic policies, telling the Economist magazine that chief executive officers should stop complaining about regulations and show greater social responsibility.
“If you look at what’s happened over the last four or five years, the folks who don’t have a right to complain are the folks at the top,” Obama said in an interview conducted last week and posted on the magazine’s website late on Saturday.
Republicans have sought to portray Obama as anti-business, and businesses have complained that Obama’s signature healthcare law and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms have raised costs.
Business groups are lobbying against his new plan to curb climate-changing carbon emissions from power plants.
“I would take the complaints of the corporate community with a grain of salt,” Obama said, arguing that his policies have been friendly to business. “They always complain about regulation. That’s their job.”
Obama has increasingly promoted populist economic measures such as raising the minimum wage to motivate Democratic voters ahead of critical November congressional elections, in which his Democrats face the prospect of losing control of the Senate.
“Oftentimes, you’ll hear some hedge-fund manager say, ‘Oh, he’s just trying to stir class resentment’. No. Feel free to keep your house in the Hamptons and your corporate jet, etcetera. I’m not concerned about how you’re living,” Obama said.
“I am concerned about making sure that we have a system in which the ordinary person who is working hard and is being responsible can get ahead,” he said.
Obama had a frosty relationship with business in his first term, famously telling an interviewer: “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street.”
The White House had toned down that rhetoric, and in Obama’s second term has rallied corporate America for support to advance executive actions to hire the long-term unemployed, get better technology in schools and provide more opportunities for young African-American men.
Obama slammed Republicans for what he termed a thread of “anti-globalization” that has stalled reauthorization of funding for the Export-Import Bank, which he said would hurt U.S. businesses trying to finance overseas trade. But in the interview, Obama chided business for a lack of social responsibility, citing a “general view” that “the only responsibility that a corporate CEO has is to his shareholders.”
“There’s a huge gap between the professed values and visions of corporate CEOs and how their lobbyists operate in Washington,” he said.
“My challenge to them consistently is, ‘Is your lobbyist working as hard on those issues as he or she is on preserving that tax break that you’ve got?’ And if the answer is no, then you don’t care about it as much as you say.”
(Editing by Lynne O’Donnell and EricWalsh)