Obama Asks Businesses for Help as He Vows to Cut Regulations

Barack Obama Jeffrey Immelt
U.S. President Barack Obama and GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt tour the General Electric plant January 21, 2011 in Schenectady, New York. Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama told almost two dozen current and former corporate leaders he’ll work with businesses to reduce hurdles to job creation, including regulations, while asking their help lobbying Congress on measures to boost the recovery.

Obama met for more than an hour with his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in Durham, North Carolina, hearing a selection of proposals from panel members, including General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt and American Express Co. Chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault, to create 1 million new jobs over the next two years.

“Sometimes we are going to need legislation and where we do, having a group like this that can reach a bipartisan consensus and then push Congress to act, I think, can make an extraordinary difference,” Obama said at the meeting, held at the headquarters of Cree Inc., the Durham-based maker of energy-efficient light-emitting diode products, which are becoming increasingly common in homes, businesses and municipal applications such as streetlights.

With the next election less than 18 months away, the president is seeking to convince the business community as well as voters that his economic policies will help restore long-term growth even as data indicate the recovery is slowing.

North Carolina was the first stop on a two-day swing for Obama that will take him to two states -- he speaks at Democratic Party fundraisers tonight in Florida -- that are critical to his re-election and where unemployment rates top the national average of 9.1 percent.

Most Serious Issue

In a speech to Cree workers after the jobs panel meeting, Obama said, “The single most serious economic problem we face is getting people back to work.”

Republicans, including the candidates seeking the party’s nomination to challenge Obama in 2012, have said the president’s policies have failed to lift the U.S. as the country emerged from the worst recession since the 1930s.

Obama is “leading from behind” when it comes to addressing the economy, former Minnesota Governor and Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said on the Fox News Sunday program yesterday. “He has run out of ideas,” he said. “We have tried it his way, and it doesn’t work.”

With the White House and Congress mired in negotiations to cut government spending and raise the $14.3 trillion federal debt ceiling, Obama has few fiscal options to give the economy a jolt.

‘Concrete Impediment’

The president said the government’s long-term debt and the deficit need to be resolved because “they are a concrete impediment to growth and jobs.”

“The administration has put themselves in a box,” said Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “The most important thing for deficit reduction is to get the economy growing again.”

Immelt and Chenault laid out in an op-ed article in today’s Wall Street Journal five steps the panel is recommending to create more than 1 million jobs in five specific areas.

They include training workers through partnerships with community colleges, cutting red tape to speed creation of construction jobs, boosting travel and tourism by easing the visa process for visitors, offering more help to small business owners seeking funding from the Small Business Administration and concentrating on jobless construction workers by putting them to work on energy projects.

‘Relentless Focus’

At the meeting, Chenault said the goal is “to create jobs across all income levels,” a task that will require a “relentless focus” by businesses and the government. Most of the actions won’t require major legislation or a long lead time to put in place, he said. They will make “a significant down payment on job creation.”

Citigroup Inc. Chairman Richard Parsons, another member of the council, said afterward that private employers must work closely with the government to remove impediments to job creation.

“The reality is the private sector always had the lead in job creation,” Parsons said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Parsons said the jobs council has been focusing on ways to help capital reach startup companies and small businesses, “which are the generators of the great majority of jobs.”

“The economy is going, it’s continuing to grow, but there is still an awful lot of volatility out there and uncertainty,” he said. “We have to get our job creation engine going again.”

Obama has spent this year seeking to repair relations with the business community, and the administration is still working to overcome criticism from some executives that its regulatory policies are creating uncertainty for companies.

Reviewing Regulations

The president said today that while regulations, such as those that protect the air and water, are necessary to protect the public, it also is important to make sure they are serving the purpose for which they are intended.

The administration announced last month that 30 federal agencies will seek to repeal or modify regulations in an effort to reduce reporting requirements and save businesses billions of dollars in compliance costs.

The revisions are the result of a review Obama ordered on Jan. 18, saying he wanted “to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.”

The spate of recent economic data suggesting the recovery is slowing has made the effort all the more urgent for Obama as he begins laying the groundwork for his re-election campaign.

Payrolls grew at the slowest pace in eight months in May, Labor Department figures released June 3 showed, while other data show manufacturing has slowed and the economy is decelerating.

Since World War II, no U.S. president has won re-election with a jobless rate above 6 percent with the exception of Ronald Reagan, who faced 7.2 percent unemployment on Election Day in 1984.

“The sky’s not falling,” Obama said as he concluded the meeting with his advisory panel. “The question is, are we going to build on the strengths that we’ve got, are we going to eliminate some of the weaknesses that are holding us back.”

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