President Obama says he's 'fierce' advocate for free market, businesses

By Bloomberg News
Thursday, February 11, 2010; A19

President Obama insisted that he and his administration have pursued a "fundamentally business-friendly" agenda and are "fierce advocates" for the free market, rejecting corporate criticism of his policies.

"The irony is that on the left we are perceived as being in the pockets of big business, and then on the business side we are perceived as being anti-business," Obama said in an interview this week with Bloomberg BusinessWeek. "You would be hard pressed to identify a piece of legislation that we have proposed out there that, net, is not good for businesses," he added. He predicted that legislation he will sign this year would cut corporate taxes by about $70 billion.

In an effort to make U.S. products more attractive, Obama set a year-end goal for persuading China to allow the value of its currency to rise. He said his administration is "going to have some very serious negotiations" with China that are "going to be bumpy."

During the interview, Obama was asked about the $17 million bonus awarded to J.P. Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon or the $9 million award issued to Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein.

The president said that while $17 million is "an extraordinary amount of money" for Main Street, "there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don't get to the World Series either, so I'm shocked by that, as well."

Blankfein and Dimon took their bonuses in stock rather than cash, which Obama encouraged other corporations to do. Such compensation, he said, "requires proven performance over a certain period of time as opposed to quarterly earnings." He said that's a "fairer way of measuring CEO success and ultimately will make the performance of American businesses better."

Wall Street has chafed at Obama's targeting of bonuses given to bank executives and fought a White House plan announced last month to recover the cost of the financial industry bailout with taxes on large banks.

Obama said compensation practices over the past decade have not always been commensurate with performance, and he reiterated his call for shareholders to have a say in executive pay.

"That serves as a restraint and helps align performance with pay," he said.

(After the interview was published, the White House published a blog entry noting that the president has previously expressed concern about the size of bonuses and the need to change Wall Street's culture.)

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