How would you characterize the relationship between the Obama Administration and business?
Very strong and constructive.
As you know from comments by business leaders, they don't necessarily see it that way.
You can't let a comment here or there distort the reality. And the reality is we have extensive conversations with the business community. But you have to keep in mind that our objective is to protect the American people and provide rules of the road that will avoid the kind of economic meltdown we had 18 months ago or the dreadful oil spill we're in the midst of trying to clean up. And at the same time, we also have the objective of creating and fostering the kind of environment where companies want to invest and hire people. And mostly those two objectives align. But let's face it, some in the business community are not supportive of the regulatory reform we're hoping Congress passes any day now. But we are convinced that those reforms are going to provide the security the American people need to ensure we don't have another meltdown.
As you know, I'm including the entirety of American business—certainly not just Wall Street—and they do talk about the slow pace of trade and about this notion of demonizing business.
Listen, let's talk about the President's announcement to move forward with our new Export Council chaired by Jim McNerney [of Boeing (BA)] and Ursula Burns [of Xerox (XRX)], two companies that are leading in terms of successful export policies. And we intend to move forward with all the free-trade agreements the President mentioned in the State of the Union: South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
Tom Donohue of the Chamber of Commerce released a statement today saying the Administration and Congress took their eye off the ball once the economy started to stabilize.
I completely disagree.
After Verizon (VZ) CEO Ivan Seidenberg, chairman of the Business Roundtable, made some critical comments about business and the Administration, you felt the necessity to write to him, as I understand it, to say we have an open door.
Well, let me go back a bit. At a meeting with Ivan, we agreed to work together in three areas: exports and trade, a revenue-neutral corporate tax policy, and regulations the business community thinks are burdensome that don't accomplish a public policy objective of ours. Ivan agreed he would send us a letter confirming what we agreed to work on, and I simply responded to his letter stating that I agreed with him and looked forward to working with him.
You have people who worry that the government today is reaching into virtually every sector of economic life and injecting uncertainty because it's unclear what the exit strategy is. And, with respect, it's more than simply regulation. It's the necessity of government to own large percentages of some crucial American industries—General Motors, Citibank (C).
If the President had not acted boldly...our banking system would have collapsed. If he had not stepped in boldly and helped the automotive companies that were in deep trouble, we would have lost millions of jobs. Those were prudent, although unpopular, investments that we believe helped stabilize the economy. But President Obama is not interested in owning a large share of banks or automotive industries or anything in the private sector. There's nothing he would like better than for the private sector to be able to stand securely on its own two feet.
Are certain members of the business community trying to use the current economic circumstances to pressure the President into easing up on regulation?
I'll let the business community speak for itself. All I know is that we work hard every day to create an environment for companies to grow. I think we are putting in the fundamental pillars that will help support a self-sustaining private sector. Now we think we're beginning to see a trajectory in the right direction. We're seeing growth. We saw record earnings announced by Intel (INTC). We're moving in the right direction, and it is important that communication between the private and public sectors remains transparent and strong. The business community is one important stakeholder, but it's not the only stakeholder.
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