On "fiscal cliff", Obama appeals to former foes

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President Obama today will talk about averting the so-called "fiscal cliff" before the Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives that hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with the president.

The president's remarks today represent his latest appeal to business leaders to get behind his approach to avoiding the "fiscal cliff," a series of tax hikes and spending cuts set to go into effect next year. As lawmakers search for ways to avert the "cliff" while still bringing down the deficit and keeping up economic growth, they've sought the input of business leaders. Mr. Obama and congressional Republicans are both hoping the support of the private sector will bolster their respective economic agendas.

Mr. Obama's relationship with the private sector, and the Business Roundtable specifically, has at times been rocky. When the president addressed the group in February 2010, he had to defend parts of his economic proposals, such as rewarding businesses that don't send jobs overseas: "That's not anti-business, it's pro-America, and I don't apologize for it," he said.

The group's then-chairman, Ivan Seidenberg of Verizon, accused Mr. Obama that year of creating an "increasingly hostile environment for investment and job creation," according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Obama gave his next address before the Business Roundtable in March 2012, when he broached the sticky subject of spending cuts: "The fact of the matter is that we have already made significant cuts when it comes to discretionary spending," he said then. "We are pruning this government to make sure the programs that don't work we eliminate, so that we can invest in the programs that are necessary for our growth... But we're also going to have to deal with revenue."

Mr. Obama's latest, publicly disclosed, "fiscal cliff" proposal calls for $1.6 trillion in new revenues, achieved in part from letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans, as well as $600 billion in spending cuts. Republicans put forward a counter offer that is made up of $900 billion in spending cuts and $800 billion in new revenues achieved through tax reform -- not tax increases.

Unlike Mr. Obama, the Business Roundtable has said it wants all of the current tax rates extended. Additionally, John Engler, the group's current president and a former Republican governor of Michigan, said Wednesday that spending cuts must accompany new revenues, Businessweek reports.

"It can't be revenue now, spending reductions later," Engler said. "This country has enormous growth potential, but we've got to clear out this fog of uncertainty" for businesses.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV on Wednesday, Mr. Obama acknowledged his contentious history with the private sector but expressed optimism that they could work together on the nation's fiscal issues.

"I recognize that, in the first four years, my relationship with the business community sometimes was skewed, because we're trying to do some tough things like health care reform and most particularly around welfare -- Wall Street reform and -- and Dodd-Frank," he said. "But in conversations I've had with CEOs, what I've encouraged them to tell me is, how can -- how can we work together so that you can succeed?"

The president has made a number of other efforts in recent weeks to engage the business community in the discussion over the "fiscal cliff." He's hosted small business owners at the White House, traveled to manufacturing plants and has met with CEOs.

Republicans, meanwhile, are also continuing to engage with the private sector, meeting with small business owners at the Capitol today.