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Obama responds to big business's imagined grievances

Posted by Jesse Singal  February 9, 2011 02:32 PM

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President Obama seems to be trying to make peace with big business. Monday, he spoke at the Chamber of Commerce, which has been one of the most powerful players among those trying to thwart his domestic agenda. Two Globe columnists have attempted to put Obama's speech into context.

In today's paper, Scot Lehigh writes that Obama is trying to make it clear that he's willing to cooperate with business:

Obama might... have cited the heated opposition to sensible re-regulation after the financial sector’s recklessness gave the lie to the notion that institutional prudence would deter excessive risk-taking. Instead, he contented himself with noting that “the absence of sound rules of the road’’ had had ill effects “even if you weren’t in the financial sector.’’ Talk of your diplomatic understatement!

The overarching message, however, was clear. The president appreciates the private sector, sees government playing a supporting role, and stands ready to cooperate when and where he can with business.

And Derrick Jackson sounded a note of skepticism in his column yesterday, pointing out that the overtures to big business come at a time when the White House seems willing to make hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to environmental and low-income-assistance programs:

[B]ig business is occupying a bigger place in the Obama White House. New chief of staff William Daley was a JPMorgan Chase executive who helped the Chamber fight financial regulation. Jeff Immelt, Obama’s new leader of a jobs council, is the CEO of General Electric, which has had countless run-ins with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama needs to be completely clear on why he is making nice to the Chamber of Commerce. He also needs to make sure he doesn’t abandon the poor or the environment in the process.

To Derrick's take I'd add: The White House seems more than happy to ask lower- and middle-income Americans to make sacrifices because of the nation's strained financial situation. After all, when federal programs get cut, that's who tends to get hurt — and there's widespread state-level budget-cutting as well, creating a harmful double whammy for people in vulnerable situations.

Are business interests being asked to make sacrifices of the same magnitude? The biggest companies (that is, those on whose behalf the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbies) are enjoying surging profits, but many of them pay low effective tax rates (part of the reason federal tax receipts are at record-low levels). The health care reform legislation pushed by Obama and passed by Democrats — which "pro-business conservatives" tend to hyperventilate about — keeps health care in private hands and will greatly expand some companies' client bases, and is based on conservative, market-oriented ideas.

And yet Obama is forced to go out of his way to prove he's not "anti-business." Why?

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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