From Sunlen Miller:
Addressing the Business Roundtable today, President Obama outlined areas where he believes that government and business can work together to build a more competitive nation, noting the somewhat tense relationship at times between the administration and the business community.
“Contrary to the claims of some of my — some of my critics, and some of the editorial pages, I am an ardent believer in the free market,” Obama told the group from the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C this afternoon. “I want everyone in this room to succeed. I want your shareholders to do well, I want your workers to do well, I want you to do well. Because I firmly believe that America's success in large part depends on your success, internationally.”
Added Obama, “And I also believe this: Government has a vital, if limited, role to play in fostering sustained economic growth and creating the foundations for you to succeed.”
The President said that too often this is greeted with rhetoric of a “government takeover” or “socialism.”
“Rather than hurling accusations about big government liberals or mean-spirited conservatives,” the president said that it should all be about being “pro-growth and pro-jobs.”
He made a brief mention of tomorrow’s health care summit at the Blair House, emphasizing that his proposal includes ideas from across the aisle.
“Our proposal contains good ideas from Democrats and Republicans and health-care experts across the spectrum. And tomorrow I look forward to a good exchange of ideas at the Blair House with some of the legislative leaders. And I hope everyone comes with a shared desire to solve this challenge, not just score political points. And I hope the roundtable supports our efforts to finally pass reform that works for the American people and for American businesses.”
The president said that he appreciated the willingness of the Business Roundtable to work with the administration on health-care reform over the course of the last year.
“I know that there are many who have been skeptical of our reform efforts, because in the wake of extraordinary measures that we took to rescue our economy, it's been an easy political tactic to characterize any effort at health reform as a ‘big government takeover.’ But let's look at the truth, because the truth is just the opposite.”
The president said that the proposed reform would “provide more certainty” for their businesses, “not less,” he added addressing the criticism, “Because there's no certainty in a future where premiums rise without limit. There's certainly no certainty where companies are forced to drop coverage or cut back elsewhere. That can't be good for business.”
Similarly Mr. Obama called on the support of the Business Roundtable for financial regulation.
“If there aren't rules in place to guard against the recklessness of a few, and they're allowed to exploit consumers and take on excessive risk, it starts a race to the bottom that results in all of us losing,” Obama said, “I ask the Business Roundtable to support these efforts. There are lobbyists on the Hill right now trying to kill reform by claiming that it would undermine businesses outside of the financial sector. That is not true. This is about putting in place rules that encourage drive and innovation instead of shortcuts and abuse, and those are rules that will benefit everybody.”
Addressing one of the largest sources of tension between his administration and the business community, the president said he wanted to set the record straight on taxes, creating a small murmur among the business leaders in the room who otherwise sat impassively during the president’s speech.
“I promised that folks making over $250,000 a year, meaning everybody in this room plus me, would go back to paying the marginal tax rates they did in the 1990s, a time when businesses did pretty well. A lot of millionaires were made. I'm not doing this to be punitive or because I love paying taxes. I'm doing it because at a time of two wars and massive deficits, I can't justify continuing to give millionaires or billionaires big tax cuts.”