Business, Labor Push Back Against White House

President Obama examines batteries for electric trucks i i

hide captionPresident Obama examines batteries for electric trucks while touring Smith Electric Vehicles in Kansas City, Mo., earlier this month.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama examines batteries for electric trucks

President Obama examines batteries for electric trucks while touring Smith Electric Vehicles in Kansas City, Mo., earlier this month.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

If the economy is recovering from its severe contraction, why are there not more jobs being created?

Republicans and some business leaders have a ready answer. They say it's because the Obama administration has focused on creating new government programs in health care while pushing for new financial regulations. Critics also cite the huge increase in the deficit. In sum, they say the president's policies and the president himself are anti-business.

But on the other side of the equation, some in organized labor say the president has been anything but anti-business. In fact, they say he's gone too far to accommodate business.

All across the country in this midterm election year, Republican incumbents and GOP hopefuls have been running against the president and Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The Republicans portray all three as out of touch regarding what businesses need to help the country recover from the recession.

Criticism From The Chamber Of Commerce

A major force behind this narrative has been the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Its chairman, Thomas Bell, recently spoke at a chamber-sponsored jobs summit in Washington, D.C., where he went through the litany of complaints against the president.

Bell listed the health care reform law and the financial regulatory reform bill. But he also blamed "EPA regulations of carbon emissions," which he says will be especially harmful to manufacturing and will boost energy costs for everyone. And he had more, including "expanded liability and higher taxes on income and investment — you know, it just goes on and on," Bell said.

The group also heard from Charles Schwab of the giant discount brokerage firm that bears his name. He added this exclamation point to the discussion of the Obama administration: "They've actually, in many ways, put the fear of God in business people."

The End Of The Road For Deregulation

The trend toward deregulation in the U.S. began in the late 1970s with the airline industry. It intensified and expanded to other industries during the 1980s under President Reagan and continued through the subsequent decades. The era has definitely come to an end, however, with the Obama administration.

That's a big reason why groups like the Chamber of Commerce, a big player in conservative politics and fundraising, are so upset with Obama.

But Damon Silvers, the policy director for the AFL-CIO, says it was about time that the hands-off approach to regulation stopped. Silver says the relaxing of rules had pushed the country to the brink in many ways.

"The business practices that brought us the economic crisis that began in 2007, the business practices that brought us the worst environmental devastation in my lifetime in the Gulf, the business practices that have hollowed out our manufacturing base" all needed to face greater oversight and scrutiny, Silver says.

Defending The Stimulus

The Chamber of Commerce and others have complained that the $787 billion stimulus has added to the deficit without creating the job growth the administration predicted. Obama has been defending the stimulus in regular trips outside Washington.

Speaking to NBC News after a stop in Holland, Mich., last week, he said: "You gotta remember also that about a third of the Recovery Act last year was tax cuts. And nobody talks about it, but those were not just tax cuts to individuals. They were also tax cuts to small businesses."

The White House bills it as the president's "White House to Main Street Tour." Obama has also been to Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Iowa and more states.

To further counter the anti-business label, the president, vice president and other administration officials are often accompanied by business leaders such as Celgard's Robert Toth in Charlotte, N.C.

Celgard makes parts for lithium-ion batteries, used in new cars. Toth told an audience at the factory that he was appreciative of the help his firm has received from the government.

"As you can see, we're currently expanding operations with our investment supported by the $49 million matching grant we received from the Department of Energy last year," he said. "It's a very exciting time for our company."

Lingering Doubts

But such events have not turned around public doubts about the stimulus or the president's handling of the economy in general. Silvers, of the AFL-CIO, says the administration tries too hard to make businesses happy, and to win Republican votes in Congress that never materialized.

"The business tax cuts were pretty clearly the least effective aspect of the stimulus bill," Silvers says.

Analyst Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, says the administration has sent mixed messages on the economy. "I think it needs to be jobs, jobs, jobs. And instead, it's jobs, deficits, jobs, deficits, and they go back and forth," he says.

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