GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - David M. Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, one of the nation's largest and most profitable employers, today called looming massive debt in Europe and the U.S. - and the lack of political will to deal with it - the greatest drag on job creation around the country.
"This is a case with both parties where they say, 'Boy, am I glad the hole is on your side of the boat.' But we're all in the same boat, and the hole needs to get fixed," Cote said in an interview with ABC News ahead of President Obama's visit to the Honeywell facility here.
"The debt creates a lot of uncertainty. It just causes people, investors, to say, 'Ah, I think I'm going to wait. And as long as you get enough people saying [that] then you end up getting this slowdown," he said, referring to the May jobs report that showed an anemic 69,000 jobs created last month.
"We need to be making investors feel confident again … and you do that by addressing European debt and the U.S. debt," he said.
Cote, whom Obama appointed to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (a.k.a. the Bowles-Simpson Commission) in 2010, has long advocated an elixir of spending cuts, entitlement reforms and tax hikes to fix the problem.
He voted in favor of the commission's draft plan, which included those elements. But it failed to receive support from enough of the panel's 18 members to receive a formal endorsement. Neither Obama nor Congressional leaders in either party embraced the entirety of the committee's plan.
Asked what advice he might have for Obama on how to improve the jobs picture, Cote demurred on specifics but said the president already knows the answer "very well."
"He understands we need to get to a point where we resolve the debt on both sides of the ocean. That is the most compelling big thing we can do. Everything else we talk about is little stuff compared to that," he said. "That is the big nut."
But if Obama's message on jobs and the economy today was any indication, that is not at the top of his pitch to the American people. While at Honeywell, the president today continued to call for a patchwork of new tax incentives and spending programs to boost job growth.
"If we don't resolve our own debt problem, it would be very easy to foresee a five-year future of 2 percent GDP growth and 8 percent unemployment," Cote warned.
Speaking of Honeywell's hiring outlook as an example, Cote said, "We're still going to be cautious hirers, generally, for the same reasons that we just talked about. You can't be positive about the economic environment going forward, so it causes all of us, when you see a slow orders picture, you have to be very careful on hiring."
Honeywell, a Fortune 100 company, is a $38 billion operation that employs 132,000 workers around the globe, including roughly 60,000 in the U.S., according to a company fact sheet. It creates and manufactures high-tech consumer products, including turbochargers for cars, thermostats for homes and navigation controls for commercial planes.