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Back to Business for Obama and Chamber of Commerce

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas J. Donohue is welcoming President Obama to the business association on Monday (AP)

In the months since the Obama White House began what aides describe as a "turning point" in relations with the GOP, they contend a similar turn of events has occurred with the business community.

When the president heads to the Chamber of Commerce for an economic speech Monday, he'll find a business lobby with tough questions.

"When are jobs coming back? How can we get this economy growing as it should again? How are we going to successfully compete in the world and when are going to get a handle on the growth of government and the deficits?" Chamber Director of Communications Blair Latoff asked.

Given the nation's perpetually high unemployment rate, trying to answer those questions have become a familiar routine for this president. Increasingly, he's leaning on the private sector for help. Obama has,in recent months, solicited advice from the heads of major companies and recently named General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to head a jobs advisory board; among the efforts the White House says could spark companies to hire more workers.

"I think the relationship [with the business community] has -- you know, feels -- feels stronger going forward," National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling told reporters at the White House Friday. "But I think it's part of an overall feeling of increased confidence that people see the president willing and able to work together to help get some things done that matter on the economy and jobs."

Latoff said Obama's gestures have been noticed.

In fact, the Chamber has become so enamored of the president's efforts on infrastructure spending that it has joined forces with an unlikely liberal ally to push for the plan's success. A joint statement by the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO issued in late January laid out their reasoning, reading, in part, "Whether it is building roads, bridges, high-speed broadband, energy systems and schools, these projects not only create jobs and demand for businesses, they are an investment in building the modern infrastructure our country needs to compete in a global economy."

However, Latoff suggested the White House and the Chamber haven't always seen eye to eye.

"The president, through his outreach, through his recent appointments, through some of his recent actions such as compromising on taxes and moving ahead on trade, has taken some welcome steps that we hadn't seen in the first two years," she said.

The roots of discord between the two can be found in the 2009 debate over the president's health-care legislation and his financial regulatory overhaul.

By mid-2010, the Chamber and the White House were openly exchanging political barbs in the thick of campaign season. The Chamber said Obama's administration "vilified industries" and the president accused the Chamber of funding political ads with foreign donations.

Latoff told Fox News the differences were never personal and the idea that drama had ensued was overblown.

"At the Chamber, we never considered ourselves feuding with the White House last year and so we don't think too much about the idea that business and the White House are 'making up' this year," she said.

Regardless of the politics, Sperling said he thinks the engagement is working.

"I think the last few months you have seen a strengthening of confidence across the board," he said." I think there's been, you know, signs of greater confidence on consumers in the consumer index, and I think there's been greater signs of increased confidence among the business community."