CAT CEO on economy: Washington lacks honesty

NEW YORK - This week, CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley is asking some of America's top CEOs how to get the country moving again.

Doug Oberhelman is CEO of Caterpillar, an American powerhouse of manufacturing. CAT builds construction and massive mining equipment.

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The company employs a workforce of 132,000 people worldwide, including 59,000 jobs in America, and Oberhelman is building or expanding eight plants right now in the United States. But he has a lot of concerns going forward, especially with Washington. He thinks free trade, a highway bill and education are part of the solution -- and Americans should not vote for candidates who take things off the table.

Dough Oberhelman: I'd have to say today the thing that concerns me and I think every American is where are we going? The uncertainty and the volatility particularly in the last three years I think has heightened everyone's awareness of what can happen.

Scott Pelley: What's missing in Washington?

Oberhelman: Honesty. I don't believe that this situation about our budget is anything new. And it is beyond me that we can't have an open, honest dialogue with our people about what it takes.

Caterpillar says sales growth continued in July

Pelley: What has to happen for job creation to pick up steam in this country?

Oberhelman: We need more action. Part of it is education, which is a little longer term. Part of it is free trade agreements - so that we can continue to sell in a preferred way to our trading partners. Lots of areas around stimulating a highway bill and infrastructure project that we've always used in this country at the depth of a recession.

But in the past when we spend money on infrastructure, it's an investment in our country, we're more competitive as a result and it puts people back to work and about time the job is done - the economy typically has inflated.

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Pelley: But you know what the political climate is, the Republicans in particular in the Congress, are saying no new spending, budget cuts are necessary and no new taxes.

Oberhelman: Any politician that says no tax revenue or zero spending cuts does not deserve reelection. Our hole is so deep in this country with the debt and the debt service, the interest on that debt, before the big expenses come for Social Security and Medicare - for we baby boomers in a few years- that everything has to be on the table.

Pelley: The workforce that you have to have to build your machines is specialized and in many cases highly technical and I wonder whether building these new plants in the United States if you're finding enough workers who have that kind of skill.

Oberhelman: What we find is a lot of the applicants need retraining, they need basic education, maybe they didn't get through high school, there's all kinds of problems.

So we spend a lot of time training and retraining. It's heartbreaking because our education system has failed all of us. And again you go to China, even Mexico, Brazil the education systems are valued - ours are not in this country at K-12 level. It's amazing how that change has transpired in my lifetime.

Pelley: Your message to Washington is what?

Oberhelman: Check the politics at the door. An honest discussion with Americans, tell us how deep the hole is. We're going to have to raise revenues in some form or fashion and we're going to have to cut spending including entitlements of all kind, including the military. We all know this. Lets get on with it.

  • Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"