September 18, 2013
(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post) (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Today, chief executives of major companies are gathering in Washington to discuss the economy as the Business Roundtable hosts its quarterly meeting with President Obama. They certainly have a lot to talk about. These business leaders are coming to town filled with uncertainty about the president’s priorities and what the government is going to do about some critical economic issues. Businesses are living under the first-term layer of the Obama regulations passed by Democrats, and are operating under the threat of even more regulations — not to mention the confusion and bewilderment they are experiencing as a result of the Obamacare trainwreck and other government-mandated costs.

Job creation is supposed to be Washington’s bipartisan priority. In private, many Business Roundtable members will tell you they haven’t noticed. No doubt they will hear the president say that 7.5 million new jobs were created in the private sector over the past 3.5 years. To put it kindly, this number conveniently ignores the vast number of Americans who have stopped looking for work. Last month alone, 516,000 people dropped out of the labor force, leaving the participation rate at 63.2 percent. That’s the lowest it’s been since August 1978. If the labor force participation rate was the same today as it was when Obama took office in 2009, the unemployment rate would be 10.8 percent.

The president won’t mention it, but he has created private sector jobs that have nothing to do with productivity and everything to do with facilitating his control over the private sector.  If J.P. Morgan is any indication, many companies are only adding jobs to deal with matters related to the ever-increasing regulations imposed by this White House. J.P. Morgan does seem to be singled out for the administration’s wrath. They are adding 7,000 people to their payroll just to work on “legal and regulatory matters.” Hiring someone whose only purpose is to feed data and paper to government regulators doesn’t add value or increase productivity. The number of private sector jobs created to ensure compliance with government demands and regulatory oversight is booming under Obama. The American Action Forum reviewed the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda for 2013, and calculated that their new regulations alone will cost more than $123 billion this year.

If the Business Roundtable CEOs ran their businesses the way Washington runs the government, they would be broke and out of a job. Well, Washington is broke, but no one is out of a job.

Anyway, the economic uncertainty that business leaders feel isn’t a result of the Obama administration keeping their plans secret. Uncertainty exists because the White House can’t articulate a reasonable, plausible plan of action on almost any issue, and it has no idea how to productively interact with Congress. There is real concern that the White House doesn’t even realize how confused and uncoordinated it appears. No one can tell where the political spin stops and the White House self-delusion begins. No one has any idea what the art of the possible is in Washington today.

Meanwhile, Republicans aren’t adding much clarity to the situation. Republicans need to help themselves by refusing to engage in misguided, certain-to-fail tactics such as linking defunding Obamacare to the budget. Today in Washington, the GOP members of Congress with the simplest solutions and strongest opinions have the most power. Those in formal leadership positions with institutional power don’t have enough real strength to gather the votes needed to pass any legislation that will ultimately clear both houses and be signed into law by the president. Beneath the well-reported gridlock in Washington there is sub-gridlock within the GOP caucus.

The next month is not going to be pretty.  Both sides will trade blows and point fingers over the budget stalemate and its impact on the economy, while voters’ contempt for both parties will continue to grow. What a mess. I doubt if the Business Roundtable members will hear much that will make them feel more confident about hiring aggressively or feel more optimistic about America’s economic future.

Follow Ed on Twitter:  @EdRogersDC

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.
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