Obama, Chamber of Commerce look for common ground

Feb. 7, 2011, 3:20 a.m. EST
Published by Associated Press
Posted by Public Blog News Posting Service

WASHINGTON (AP) — After two years of vociferous conflict over
health care and financial regulations, President Barack Obama and the
nation’s top business lobby — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — have
entered into something of a detente.

Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech Monday at the Chamber,
a first for him. Not four months ago, he had attacked the huge,
Republican-leaning trade organization for failing to disclose donors to
its $32 million congressional political campaign. “Their lips are
sealed,” Obama said at the time, “but the floodgates are open.”

The White House and the Chamber now are highlighting areas of
common ground and expressing a joint commitment to creating jobs. Obama
has stressed his new economic agenda, featuring competitiveness,
innovation, energy and entrepreneurship.

Disagreements linger and are
no less vehement, but they no longer are the subject of loud
legislative battles and big-dollar advertising campaigns by the Chamber.

White House officials say Obama’s speech will not break new
policy ground, nor will he offer an olive branch. But in his radio and
Internet address Saturday, Obama said he planned to tell businesses
they have an obligation to stay in the United States, hire American
workers and invest in the nation’s future.

The speech — part nudge, part courtship — is a message to
business that is hardly limited to the Chamber of Commerce. Obama met
with some of the nation’s top 20 executives in December, gently
prodding them to get cash off their balance sheets and use it to create

Also in December, he negotiated a compromise with Republicans on
tax cuts that won him some grudging boardroom support.

It wasn’t always so. During his first two years as president,
Obama was known to play a populist hand, referring to bankers as “fat
cats,” rebuking corporate lobbyists and casting the insurance industry
as an antagonist in the health care debate.

So bitter were the fights,
they overshadowed areas of solid agreement, including the Chamber’s
support of Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus plan and the bailout of
automakers General Motors and Chrysler.

“What’s changed now? I would use four words,” U.S. Chamber of
Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in an interview with The
Associated Press. “The election has changed.”

The Republican wave in the November election wrested control
of the House of Representatives from the Democrats.

It created a need
for more compromise in the legislative process and for the type of
outreach Obama did not seek — and Republicans did not offer — when
Democrats were in total control.

Obama needs the centrist cloak that the business community
offers. The Chamber can benefit by softening the sharp edges it
developed fighting the health care overhaul and tighter financial rules.

Both sides need each other for policy, as well.

The Chamber
can help the Obama administration win congressional support of trade
deals, particularly a recently renegotiated pact with South Korea.

Both the White House and the Chamber face Republican opposition

to increased
spending on public works, from roads and bridges to wireless networks.

On trade, on infrastructure and — mostly — on regulations,
Donohue said, companies want certainty from the government.

“The reason the companies are sitting on $2 trillion worth of
cash is because of uncertainty,” he said.

Obama long has had allies in the private sector. He has given
corporate CEOs advisory roles, and throughout his first two years, he
held periodic lunches with executives at the White House.

But until
now, he had not brought them into his inner circle.

Last month, that changed. Obama named Bill Daley, a former
commerce secretary and JPMorgan Chase executive, as his chief of staff.
He promoted Gene Sperling, a known quantity to the business community,
as his new chief economic adviser.

He gave high-profile assignments to
General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and AOL founder Steve Case.

In one of his first calls in his new post, Sperling called
Donohue, who welcomed him with characteristic bluntness: “Glad to have
someone over there I’m comfortable sparring with at 10 a.m. and sitting
down with at 2 p.m. to work on policy.”

The story, confirmed by White House and Chamber officials,
helps illustrate the 2011 version of this relationship.

Donohue also saw Daley’s appointment as a positive signal.

“Daley is a big-time Democrat, but he’s a sound guy,” Donohue
said. “He knows how the town works, he knows how business works. He
knows how the system works.”

Still, the Chamber can be a sharp-elbowed foe.

“The Chamber is an enormously sophisticated Washington insider
organization and is run by very conservative Republican operatives, for
the most part,” said Matt Bennett, a vice president at the centrist but
Democratic-leaning Third Way. “That relationship is always going to be
more difficult than the broader outreach to business.”

But the joint focus these days is jobs. In front of the 10
massive Corinthian columns that grace the front of the Chamber’s
building, Donohue has authorized the placement of giant banners that
spell out J-O-B-S.

The letters are visible from the White House through the bare
winter trees of Lafayette Square — offering both a sign of common
purpose and a reminder to the White House occupant of the 9 percent
unemployment rate that still bedevils him.


Warmest regards,
Owner Calvin L. Ledsome Sr.,

Posted by Public Blog News Posting Service



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