Obama courts business to spur hiring (Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama, trying to improve strained relations with the corporate world, prodded American CEOs on Wednesday to spend more of big business’s estimated $2 trillion cash hoard to boost U.S. hiring and the economy.

“We focused on jobs and investment and they feel optimistic that, by working together, we can get some of the cash off the sidelines,” Obama told reporters after spending more than four hours with 20 company leaders to discuss job creation.

Obama wanted to pick the brains of America’s business executives amid estimates that major companies are sitting on around $2 trillion that could be deployed to employ more U.S. workers.

The meeting with corporate bosses, including Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of General Electric Co, John Chambers, chief executive of Cisco Systems Inc, and Dave Cote, chief executive of Honeywell International Inc, took place as the U.S. Senate passed tax cuts sought by companies.

Obama has had his disagreements with big business, notably over healthcare and Wall Street reforms, and the meeting was seen as an opportunity to turn a new page.

“I think we have a chance for a new beginning here, and I think we’re going to try to take it,” James McNerney, chief executive of Boeing Co, said after the meeting.

Robert Wolf, chief executive, UBS Group Americas said after the meeting he expected relations between business and the White House to be more positive in 2011.

McNerney told CNBC television that Obama had asked them to report back in 30 to 45 days with some reform ideas, and said the corporate tax rate was discussed “a great deal.”

Obama has compromised with Republicans in Congress on tax after his party’s defeat in congressional elections in November. But his latest overture to the business community did not impress everyone.

House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner derided the meeting and said it illustrated Obama’s “top-down approach to the economy.”

Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said inviting a relatively limited group of favored CEOs to the White House every so often did not equal genuine engagement with business.

“I think they have reached out to a small cadre of corporate CEOs ever since they’ve been here. They clearly are continuing to do that,” he said.

Top executives want Obama to tone down what they see as his anti-business rhetoric, go easy on regulation and slash corporate taxes in a planned tax code reform next year.


Relations were strained by reforms that businesses say will hurt profits, as well as populist rhetoric which reached a low point when Obama spoke out against “fat cat” Wall Street bonuses last year.

But he has generally pleased corporate critics with a plan to extend Bush-era tax cuts that is expected to win backing from U.S. lawmakers.

The measures, thrashed out by the White House with Republicans despite the misgivings of Democrats over tax breaks for wealthier Americans, are seen as boosting U.S. output by 1 percentage point next year if adopted.

The president said he will seek ideas on tax reform at the meeting and a “balanced approach to regulation that will promote, rather than undermine, growth.”

Obama also said he wanted “ideas that will help businesses to invest in America and American jobs, at a time when they are holding nearly $2 trillion on their books.”

Companies have been cautious about spending their cash because of doubts about the strength of the economic recovery, and have met rising demand by squeezing more from existing workers instead of adding to their payrolls.

U.S. growth has resumed after the worst recession since the 1930s, but unemployment remains painfully high at 9.8 percent and the administration is trying to find ways to accelerate hiring by encouraging companies to invest.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Ross Colvin, Diane Bartz and Jeff Mason; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

The breaking news, Obama courts business to spur hiring
extract from US Economy

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