Boeing Co. Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney said the Obama administration needs to be more sensitive to the needs of business, citing regulatory burdens that he said are creating uncertainty for companies.
McNerney, who is chairman of President Barack Obama’s Export Council and a member of the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, also defended the role of private equity in the economy, which has come under fire from Obama’s political team.
“I think they’re trying to reach out,” McNerney said in an interview with Bloomberg Television when asked whether the administration is responsive to the business community. “But no, I would like to see more.”
McNerney’s comments may provide fodder for Republicans, including the party’s presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, in a general election campaign that will turn on the question of which candidate can best handle the economy.
Romney, a co-founder of Bain Capital LLC, has cited his background as a private equity executive to argue that he knows how to create jobs and an environment for businesses to thrive. Obama’s campaign team, including chief strategist David Axelrod, has countered that there is a difference between executive experience creating wealth for investors and creating jobs at a manufacturer such as Chicago-based Boeing, the world’s biggest aerospace company and the largest U.S. exporter.
Private Equity’s Role
McNerney said that distinction was “too easy” to make.
“Even within Boeing you’re growing some elements, you’re winding down others to fuel, to provide resources, to provide the growth,” McNerney said. “That’s what makes this country great, because we can redeploy capital and labor more quickly than other societies. And I think private equity plays a role in that.”
The Boeing chief said business experience isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for office. He joked that a CEO would be “a little frustrated from time to time” as the government’s top executive.
“I don’t think you have to be a businessman per se, but you have to understand, you have to have had the same civics lesson that others have had about how this country works,” he said.
The cost of regulation has emerged as a theme in Republican campaign attacks on Obama. Romney has described Obama’s approach to regulation as “unprecedented, unpredictable and unproductive.”
McNerney said the Obama administration tends “to fall a little on the side of” extremes on regulatory, tax and fiscal policies, adding “some of the more extreme elements in the Republican Party can also be unreasonable.”
McNerney was speaking from Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, where Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner landed for the first time yesterday as part of a world tour for the jet, which entered production late in 2011 after more than three years of delay. Boeing is seeking to accelerate production of the twin-aisle jets to 10 a month by the end of 2013.
Boeing is being forced to plan around Washington gridlock, which he blamed on extremists in both parties who are rewarded for refusing to compromise.
“It is very frustrating to compete in a world where extremism rules, but at the end of the day our country has been known for pragmatic solutions,” said McNerney, 62, who also is chairman of the Business Roundtable. “That’s what differentiates America from most other places. We’ll get back to it. We just need to get there fast.”
McNerney said his company is being forced to be “more aggressive” with costs than he had hoped, in anticipation of $492 billion in defense cuts scheduled to take effect in January 2013. The automatic cuts are a consequence of so-called budget sequestration imposed because Congress couldn’t agree on a deficit reduction plan last year.
“Sequestration is the best example of Washington induced uncertainty that I know of,” he said.