Obama says businesses must hire, invest to grow economy

President Barack Obama is telling business leaders that despite some strong disagreements, "we can and must work together." Obama spoke Monday morning at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (Feb. 7)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 8:42 PM

President Obama on Monday pledged to make government an ally of companies as they emerge from the bleak downturn of recent years, even as he challenged executives to do their part to help resurrect the economy.

"We can, and we must, work together," Obama told an audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, his most overt effort yet to mend ties with the nation's business community. "Whatever differences we may have, I know that all of us share a deep, abiding belief in this country, a belief in our people, a belief in the principles that have made America's economy the envy of the world."

His administration will "help lay the foundation for you to grow and innovate," Obama said, vowing new investment in infrastructure and education and a focus on removing "barriers that make it harder for you to compete - from the tax code to the regulatory system."

But even as he vowed to push hard on initiatives ranging from trade deals to corporate tax reform, Obama challenged business leaders to ramp up their hiring, bring jobs back from overseas and quit sitting on such large stockpiles of cash.

"Many of your own economists and salespeople are now forecasting a healthy increase in demand. So I want to encourage you to get in the game," Obama said, noting the tax credits the administration recently negotiated to spur new investments. "As you all know, it is investments made now that will pay off as the economy rebounds. And as you hire, you know that more Americans working means more sales, greater demand and higher profits for your companies. We can create a virtuous cycle."

The president also defended his health-care law and urged the business community to refrain from challenging regulations.

"Not every regulation is bad; not every regulation is burdensome on business," he said. "Moreover, the perils of too much regulation are matched by the dangers of too little."

Obama made the short walk from White House across Lafayette Park for the much-anticipated speech to the Chamber, which has hosted nearly every president during the past century. The visit, months in the making, came as the administration and the Chamber - one of the nation's most powerful lobbying groups - have tried to thaw their often-chilly connection.

Both have reasons to seek common ground. The White House is eager to improve relations with centrist voters, corporate donors and the new Republican House majority ahead of the 2012 presidential election. The Chamber stands to benefit if it can work in a bipartisan way on initiatives it sees as beneficial to the nation's businesses.

The relationship between the Chamber and the White House has been a turbulent one for the past two years. The Chamber spent tens of millions of dollars fighting Obama's signature health-care overhaul, opposing key elements of the financial regulation law and helping to deliver the House majority to the Republicans last fall.

In turn, Obama recently said the group may have used foreign money to fund ads attacking Democrats - an assertion the group denied - and a senior aide called the Chamber's political tactics a "threat to our democracy."

Early in his speech, Obama joked about the tensions between the two sides. "I'm here in the interest of being more neighborly," he said. "Maybe we would have gotten off on a better foot if I had brought over a fruitcake when we first moved in. But I'm going to make up for it."

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