Obama's Neighborly Chamber Speech: 3 Remarks That Will Inflame Big Business [UPDATE]

Last Updated Feb 8, 2011 11:54 AM EST

In an effort to be more neighborly, President Obama spoke Monday to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and talked about stuff the business community typically swoons over -- domestic spending cuts, tax reform and an end to unnecessary regulation. But that won't be enough to calm the fiery storm brewing within the big business lobby group. Tucked amid all the pro-business rhetoric, were plenty of remarks that will surely stoke the anti-Obama fire.

UPDATE: Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donahue said in a interview on Fox News Channel, he was happy with Obama's speech, and more importantly, by a private conversation that encouraged him of future communication. Donahue tried to play down previous battles with the White House and seemed particularly happy with Obama new chief of staff Bill Daley.

That being said, several remarks Obama made are strikingly different than the Chamber's official stance. While Donahue may be offering up a friendlier, more conciliatory tone, there's no way he'll acquiesce to some of the positions Obama made in his speech. Aside from the obvious (any mention of healthcare reform), the three biggies are still listed below.

1. High-speed rail
We also have a responsibility as a nation to provide our people and our businesses with the fastest, most reliable way to move goods and information. The costs to business from the outdated and inadequate infrastructure we currently have are enormous. That's why I want to put more people to work rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges. And that's why I've proposed connecting 80 percent of the country to high-speed rail, and making it possible from companies to put high-speed internet coverage in reach of virtually all Americans.
Obama's belief in high-speed rail is well known. He talked about it in his State of the Union address and announced last year $8 billion in high-speed rail projects. But mention perhaps the most reviled of all spending proposals and a battle cry among GOPers and Tea Partiers alike to the Chamber? Wow.

What was particularly ballsy was Obama's inclusion of high-speed rail under the umbrella of improving infrastructure -- an area where he lumped the controversial spending item with more GOP-friendly causes like rebuilding roads. Not that the Chamber would possibly be tricked into suddenly putting roads and high-speed rail on an equal footing. But hey, it's worth a shot.

2. A shoutout to the EPA

Obama directly named the EPA only once, and in that case, he did it in an attempt to describe how the regulatory agency has been cautious and tentative in its approach to regulating greenhouse gases. But he did give the EPA an endorsement that some in corporate America may have caught on to.
Not every regulation is bad. Not every regulation is burdensome on business. A lot of the regulations that are out there are things that all of us welcome in our lives.

Few of us would want to live in a society without rules that keep our air and water clean; that give consumers the confidence to do everything from investing in financial markets to buying groceries.
It would've have been nice had Obama come straight out and given the EPA a ringing endorsement. But given the GOP attack on the EPA right now and the agency's unpopularity among business, Obama took a more subtle approach. Still, it was important and signals that Obama not only endorses what the EPA does, but will fight to preserve its authority.

3. Corporate tax loopholes
We need something smarter, something simpler, something fairer. That's why I want to lower the corporate rate and eliminate these loopholes to pay for it, so that it doesn't add a dime to our deficit.
Lowering the corporate tax rate sounds swell, but some industries aren't biting. Why? Because Obama also has called for the various "loopholes" that exist in our complex tax code to be eliminated. And under that scenario, some businesses -- read, those with political connections -- will see their taxes go up, even if overall rates fall.

Obama has talked about ending tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, which according to the Tax Policy Center's Eric Toder would be about $14 billion over the next five years. But there's many more "loopholes" out there -- actually $640 billion in deductions, breaks and off-ramps over the next five years. About $506 billion of these come from corporate taxpayers and some of them are quite popular, even with the administration. For example, there's the R&D tax credit ($32 billion over 5 years) and accelerated depreciation of machinery and equipment ($147 billion), a break that subsidizes domestic investment and has just been increased, Toder notes.

Photo from the White House
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