Assessing Obama's Meeting With Corporate Chiefs

Was it anything other than a high-powered and really long lunch?

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President Obama huddled with 20 top CEOs Wednesday for over four hours of closed-door meetings in an effort to ease tensions between the White House and the business community, encourage corporate America to pour some of its $2 trillion in cash reserves into hiring and expansion, and discuss thorny issues like trade policy, tax reform, and government regulation.

Obama reportedly kicked off the gathering by informing attendees, "Those of you around the table represent why America is unique, what is best about our entrepreneurial spirit, and I want to dispel any notion that we want to inhibit your success."

In the lead-up to the meeting, commentators doubted whether it would result in job creation. If anything, the event has left them even more skeptical:

  • Obama Failed As Job Salesman, argues Douglas McIntyre at 24/7 Wall St. Obama didn't provide companies, who want to use the cash on their balance sheets to increase dividends, finance mergers and acquisitions, and guard against another economic downturn, with incentives to increase their payrolls. A good jobs salesman, McIntyre suggests, would have wooed CEOs with a proposal that lowers the cost of adding new jobs during a recession and is attractive to investors, like giving every corporation that adds a person to payroll a tax break.
  • And He's Contradicting Himself, charges David Sirota at Open Left, who cites Obama's remark before the CEO meeting that his tax cut plan, which has passed the Senate and moved to the House, "will help grow our economy and create jobs in the private sector." Sirota responds:
If corporations are flush with cash, then additional cash in the form of tax cuts isn't going to prompt them to do anything other than what they're already doing - namely, hoarding cash and offshoring jobs to cheaper labor markets ... This tax cut package is all about expediency and padding corporate profits and nothing about growing our economy.
  • 'CEO Summit' Is a 'Nothingburger,' states incoming House Speaker John Boehner on his website, apparently not in reference to the meeting's lunch menu. The Obama administration's past attempts to make peace with the business community have failed, he explains, and the White House is asking employers to create jobs while continuing to promote its "job-killing" health care law. Boehner employs the phrase "job-killing" nine more times in his dispatch.
  • Obama-Business Rift Remains and Is National Concern, asserts Mort Zuckerman in The Financial Times. "Business leaders will not be won over by a round of private lunches and photo ops," he says. To seriously court corporate America, Zuckerman adds, Obama should simplify the tax code, develop a national infrastructure plan, boost the number of visas for highly qualified students, bring more senior business people into his administration, and get serious about deficit reduction.
  • This Is About Policy Uncertainty More Than Creating Demand, says James Pethokoukis at Reuters: "We just ran a 2-year experiment where we flooded the economy with economic and monetary stimulus while at the same time wrecking business incentives via tax and regulatory threats. The results have not been pretty."
  • Why Are the Titans of American Industry So Sensitive? wonders Jonathan Chait at The New Republic, thinking more broadly. Corporations are reaping profits because of the way the White House addressed the economic crisis, he argues, but "despite the objectively pro-business cast of Obama's policies, he has infuriated the CEO class by occasionally pointing out that businessmen can make mistakes. You would think business would care about the bottom line, but businessmen want also to be loved."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.