Seidenberg Turns From Obama Critic to Advocate on Taxes, Trade

Ivan Seidenberg, the Verizon Communications Inc. chief executive officer, turned from critic to advocate for President Barack Obama’s policies after administration deals this month on tax cuts and free trade.

Seidenberg issued a list of complaints against Obama and Democrats in Washington six months ago, saying proposals to raise corporate taxes and impose environmental regulations threatened to undercut companies’ ability to expand and hire.

“The president has shown a willingness to learn,” Seidenberg, chairman of the Business Roundtable, the Washington group that represents corporate CEOs, said today at a news conference in Washington. “The things that occurred in the past couple of days are extraordinary.”

Obama agreed with Republicans this week to extend tax cuts, and he announced a deal with South Korea on Dec. 3 that would allow a free-trade agreement between the two nations to proceed. Preserving the decade-old tax rates and passing long-stalled trade deals have been among demands of corporate advocates such as the Business Roundtable.

Seidenberg’s group, representing CEOs from companies such as JPMorgan & Chase Co. and Exxon Mobil Corp., released a “Roadmap for Growth” today that called for changes to corporate tax policy, a cut in spending and revisions in new financial rules and health-care legislation. The group said it shared Obama’s goal to retool the U.S. education system and modernize the electricity grid.

Differences remain over Obama’s initiatives. The group said 290 environmental regulations being considered by the administration would stifle economic growth. It called for Congress to rescind a measure that would make it easier for outside directors to get elected to corporate boards.

‘Negative Consequences’

“Piecemeal policies to address specific issues in areas such as energy, taxation or health care often have unintended negative consequences for employers and the economy,” the group said in its report.

Seidenberg said chief executives learn to “have a very short memory” and he didn’t refer to the 54-page document the group sent to the White House on June 21 listing administration policies that it said were inhibiting economic growth.

The group complained in the document that Obama failed to move on pending trade deals, and that he supported legislation to raise taxes on companies’ overseas income and make it easier for unions to organize. Obama now says he wants to get the Korean trade deal approved by Congress, and neither of those other two measures were passed by lawmakers.

“What we said before had its impact,” Seidenberg said today. “We are at a moment now where we want to work with the president and the new Congress to get the country on the right track.”

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