Politics

Friend and Foe; Obama's Relationship with Big Business

At the same time President Obama stokes the nation's businesses for holding back on hiring workers, he is relying on them to salvage his economic agenda.

It's a delicate give and take Mr. Obama has tried for months to perfect. Tonight, that effort continues at the White House when he invites some of the business world's most powerful CEOs over for a meal.

Six of the attendees are members of the Business Roundtable's Executive Committee. They are: Verizon's Ivan Seidenberg, Honeywell's Dave Cote, Eastman Kodak's Antonio Perez, Wal-Mart's Mike Duke, Xerox's Ursula Burns and Pepsi's Indra Nooyi.

The President's Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, described the meeting as "a free-flowing conversation about their ideas." He said the meeting with the CEOs provided an opportunity "to discuss where the interests of workers, business and government intersect in creating a new foundation for ensuring incentives for continued hiring."

On Wednesday, the President heads to their turf, addressing the wider Business Roundtable at the St. Regis. With nearly $6 trillion in annual revenues and more than 12 million employees, the association of CEOs is a force to be reckoned with. The group hasn't been shy about speaking out against Mr. Obama's agenda.

The President won't shy away from speaking his mind, either. Gibbs says "The President included in his budget the notion that if -- of rolling back the tax break that allows people to enjoy the benefits of moving jobs overseas...I'm sure there are those that will make their strong case for why they think there should be a tax benefit to that."

That case has already been made by the Roundtable itself.

"The President has argued that 'the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America's businesses.' We couldn't agree more," says the Roundtable's website. "But to create new and better-paying jobs, American companies must have the flexibility to compete both here and abroad - where 95 percent of the world's consumers are."

Despite these differences, the President will keep his appointment Wednesday.

At least until the job market improves, Mr. Obama continues to play nice with big business; both in meetings and in public. He told Businessweek recently, after conceding the enormity of some CEO's recent bonuses, "I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system."

UPDATE: The White House has just released the full list of business leaders and senior staff who will attend tonight's dinner.

President Obama will address the Business Roundtable tomorrow at 1:00 pm. The White House is billing the speech as a significant consolidation of Obama's ideas on generating economic growth, explaining moves he's made so far and what he considers the top economic priorities in Congress this year.

Here is the list of business attendees:

·William Green, Accenture plc

·Michael Morris, American Electric Power Company

Ken Chenault, American Express Company

· Randall Stephenson, AT&T Inc.

· Jim McNerney, The Boeing Company

· Clarence Otis, Darden Restaurants

· Antonio Pérez, Eastman Kodak Company

· Jeff Immelt, General Electric Company

· David Cote, Honeywell International, Inc.

· Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

· Ed Rust, Jr., State Farm Insurance Companies

· Harold McGraw III, McGraw-Hill Companies

· Stephen Odland, Office Depot

· Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo, Inc.

· Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon Communications

· Michael Duke, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

· Ursula Burns, Xerox Corporation

Senior White House officials attending dinner tonight: Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel; Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett; Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Chairman of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers; Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Christina Romer and senior White House economist Austan Goolsbee.