President Obama reached out to the U.S. business community on Monday in a speech where he promised to make sales calls for American products and cut burdensome regulations, while asking companies to recognize they have responsibilities to workers and consumers.
The speech is part of the Obama team's attempt to demonstrate that he is not anti-business, and that he wants to create jobs by encouraging firms to use their cash on hand to "get in the game." It also sets a conciliatory tone as he sends his budget to a hostile GOP controlled House next week.
Obama walked the block from the White House to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters -- a building he can easily see from the White House residence -- flanked by his two top ambassadors to corporate America: senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who, as a top executive at banking giant J. P. Morgan Chase worked closely with the Chamber.
Wisecracked Obama to the Chamber audience -- noting the Chamber is his neighbor -- "if we had brought over a fruitcake when I first moved in, we would have gotten off to a better start."
The Chamber is a major player in several ways, including being a major funder of Republican candidates and causes. According to the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation, the Chamber spent $32.15 million in the 2010 mid-term election cycle, most going to GOP candidates -- the biggest source of non-party campaign cash.
Obama, in pressing for Chamber cooperation, stressed that he was looking for common ground. He repeated what he's been saying for years to labor and business: that there is no turning back the clock and that U.S. companies have and will continue to send jobs to China, India and more recently Brazil. But American business can find new markets with newly developed middle classes in these countries.
"These forces are as unstoppable as they are powerful," Obama said. But "....if we're out there selling and we're out there hustling, there's no reason why we can't do a lot better than we're doing right now when it comes to our exports."
Obama told the Chamber he has:
-- Ordered a government wide review of tax code rules and agency regulations and will "fix' rules that stifle business growth.
-- Ordered agencies to find ways to make regulations more flexible for small businesses.
-- Ordered a cutback of paperwork.
The president also said he wants to:
-- Upgrade transportation and communication networks.
-- Invest more in education.
-- Reform the patent system.
-- Propose a permanent bigger tax cut for research and development.
-- Reorganize the 12 agencies that deal with U.S. exports to make it easier to reach global markets.
Obama said U.S. businesses should help recreate a country which those hit hard by the recession may not remember, saying "This is a place where you can make it if you try." He asked companies to keep a "social compact" and spend some of the nearly $2 trillion U.S. business has on hand. "So I just want to encourage you to get in the game."
The president said he will "go anywhere, any time, to be a booster for American businesses, American workers and American products. ...And I don't charge a commission."
While making these peace offerings, Obama said American business, on the flip side, needs to acknowledge that "not every regulation is bad. Not every regulation is burdensome on business."
He also lectured on what he said were the "mutual responsibilities" of government and business, most centrally hiring more U.S. workers. With unemployment at 9 percent and more for the past 20 months, the jobless rate is a major threat to Obama's 2012 re-election bid.
He gave some examples: drug companies once argued that the creation of the Food and Drug Administration would destroy their business; car companies worried that mandatory seat belts would be the "downfall" of the industry and that child labor protection laws were once denounced as "communistic." None of that ever happened.
Obama's signature health care law is under attack, with Republicans in Congress pledging to repeal it, even though the Democratic Senate -- and Obama's veto power -- makes that an impossibility for now. Still, the GOP is trying to dismantle and de-fang the law and Obama addressed that in his speech.
"I know that folks here have concerns about this law," he said. Obama, who spent a portion of his State of the Union address last month talking about not repealing the health care law, did not dwell on the GOP threat. Instead, he repeated that he is open to medical malpractice reform and revoking an IRS reporting "1099" requirement.
House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement after the speech, "President Obama has retooled his rhetoric, but not his job-destroying policies, which are eroding confidence, fostering uncertainty, and crowding out private investment. Far from changing tack, his administration is taking steps to protect the job-crushing regulations in its health care and permanent bailout laws, while plotting a backdoor national energy tax. "
The audience laughed when Obama make a joke about two leading business and labor leaders, Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.
The two men are "not Facebook friends," Obama quipped. "Well, maybe, I don't think they are anyway. I didn't check on this. But they agree on the need to build a 21st