The Anti-Business President's Pro-Business Summit

President Obama will meet with top CEOs Wednesday to discuss job creation, US competitiveness, and the recovery. The White House hopes the meeting will help the president shrug off accusations that the administration has been antagonistic toward corporations, either in word or deed.

But is the president really anti-business? There are basically two camps.

In the first camp, White House defenders are quick to point out all the ways the president has acted to protect American Business. The federal government rescued the financial industry, bailed out Detroit, offered a shoulder for Citigroup and AIG, cut taxes for business in the stimulus while propping up demand with a huge deficit, presided over some of the best quarters in corporate earnings history, and proposed a huge business investment tax credit in addition to extending the R&E credit in the latest compromise with Republicans. Does that sound like somebody who has it out for business?

In the second camp, White House detractors point out that that the president's policies seem retributive. He seeks to punish bad insurance companies with health care reform and bad banks with financial reform. Although the bills basically preserve the the private insurance model and didn't try to break up the biggest banks, critics said they were stung by the White House's rhetoric and the emphasis on government nudging the private sector toward its preferred "incentives." In a Weekly Standard piece from last year, Fred Barnes began: "Is President Obama anti-business? The obvious answer is yes." More recently, the White House and congressional Democrats have sought to pay for unemployment benefits by raising taxes on multinational companies.

It boils down to a debate over past and future. The first camp is saying, look what the president has done to help the economy climb out of the hole. The second camp is saying, Look what the president wants to do now. He came, he fixed ... and now he wants to nudge.

And -- not to fall back on false equivalence -- but both sides have a point here. The president rescued business and now he wants to shape it. He wants energy companies to be greener, and health insurers to spend more on care, and banks to be less risky, and multinational corporations to pay higher effective tax rates. There are companies and special interest groups that want the opposite of each of those things, and for them, the president's agenda will appear to be anti-business (or more specifically, anti-their business) no matter how many CEO summits he holds in 2011.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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