Obama Reaches Out To Business Leaders
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
President Obama will be taking up different themes on Monday when he gives a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That's not so unusual. Most presidents talk to the business group at one time or another. But over the last two years, Mr. Obama has had a sometimes rocky relationship with the business community.
There are some signs of a thaw in relations, though. And the White House is anxious to continue that warming trend. Mr. Obama knows he's going to need help from business leaders to put more Americans back to work.
NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us now.
Scott, welcome to the program.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: So, why has the president been on the outs with the Chamber of Commerce?
HORSLEY: Well, they had some big fights over major pieces of the Obama agenda. The Chamber was dead set against the health care overhaul. They had issues with big parts of the financial reform. There was also a perception by some in the business community that somehow Mr. Obama was anti-business in his rhetoric. You might remember when he talked about fat cats on Wall Street. What's more, last year, the Chamber spent millions of dollars in the midterm elections, mostly of it aimed at defeating the president's Democratic allies in Congress and replacing them with Republicans.
WERTHEIMER: Now is it the shellacking that's led Mr. Obama to take a new tack with the business community?
HORSLEY: The White House was obviously somewhat humbled by the election results last fall. And just as the president's tried to reach out and make some compromises with the Republicans in Congress as he did in December with the compromised deal on tax cuts, he's also trying to partner now with business leaders. He knows that he needs their help in order to speed up job growth in the country.
What's more, the Chamber was very helpful late last year in pushing for the Korean free trade agreement. That was something of a trust building ice breaker between the Chamber of Commerce and the president in the wake of the midterm elections. And so now the president and the Chamber are looking for other areas where they might be able to work together.
WERTHEIMER: And what would some of those areas be?
HORSLEY: First, they still have to get the Korean free trade deal through to Congress and the Chamber's going to be helping with that, as well as pushing for other free trade agreements. And in addition, the Chamber is interested in some of the pro-business investments the president talked about in his State of the Union speech, like improving the transportation network or better preparing students for the workforce.
President BARACK OBAMA: All these investments in innovation, education and infrastructure will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.
HORSLEY: Business people are also interested in the president's plan to overhaul the corporate tax code. But we should say that's not necessarily unanimous position, because what the president is talking about doing lowering the overall corporate tax rate but doing away with some of the loopholes. There would be winners and losers in that. Some companies would be very much in favor of that, some might come out on the losing end.
WERTHEIMER: So what do you think, will we hear the strains of Kumbaya coming from the Chamber's headquarters on Monday?
(Soundbite of laughter)
HORSLEY: Probably not exactly. We shouldn't make too much of this turnaround. The Chamber has backed some of the president's initiatives before this. They, for example, supported the stimulus early on in the administration, and there are likely to be big battles ahead, especially when it comes to regulations. The Chamber says they're worried about a tsunami of regulations as financial reform and the health care law are implemented.
One other thing the Chamber says it's pleased about, though, is the personnel move the White House has made in recent weeks. Bill Daley, the new White House chief of staff, is someone who has business experience. And so the Chamber says even if we don't agree with what the White House is doing, at least there's somebody on the other end of the phone we feel we can talk to who speaks our language.
WERTHEIMER: That's NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley.
Scott, thank you.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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