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Obama, Business Roundtable Disagree Over Taxes


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

President Obama has been trying to mend fences with business leaders and engage them in Washington's effort to avoid the deficit reduction deadline known as the fiscal cliff. The president's latest stop was yesterday at the headquarters of the Business Roundtable, located on Pennsylvania Avenue right between the White House and the Capitol.

Here's NPR's John Ydstie.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: The chairman of the Roundtable, James McNerney, CEO of Boeing, got the meeting off to a cordial start as he greeted the president.

JAMES MCNERNEY: I think from all of us here, congratulations on your victory last month in a hard fought campaign, where the...


MCNERNEY: This room likes a winner.

YDSTIE: That's not surprising since most of the members of the Roundtable are winners too. They're the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies like Dow Chemical, Xerox, American Express and Wal-Mart. Many are also members of a group called Fix the Debt that's been lobbying lawmakers to get an agreement to tame the deficit and avoid the fiscal cliff. McNerney told the president the Roundtable wanted get engaged too.

MCNERNEY: We're eager for a two-way exchange. Hopefully your takeaway will be we can serve a useful purpose in the dialogue. Thank you again for joining us today. We'd love to hear from you.



YDSTIE: The president's remarks were delayed a bit by a problem with a glitchy microphone. But Mr. Obama made good use of the technical problems, making his way around the room, campaign style, shaking hands and engaging the leaders until the problem was solved and McNerney called him back to the podium.

MCNERNEY: Has anybody seen the president?


MCNERNEY: We got him back.

YDSTIE: The business community didn't much like Mr. Obama during the campaign. He was viewed by many as anti-business. The president attempted to disabuse the CEOs of that notion as he began his remarks.

OBAMA: I am passionately rooting for your success. Because if the companies in this room are doing well, then small businesses and medium-size businesses up and down the chain are doing well. If companies in this room are doing well, then folks get jobs, consumers get confidence, and we're going to be able to compete around the world.

YDSTIE: But the president and this powerful business group still have differences. The Roundtable is on the record urging the extension of the Bush era tax cuts for everyone, including the wealthy, despite the president's argument that the wealthy need to pay more. The president made his case for why rate hikes for the wealthy are necessary.

OBAMA: It is not possible for us to raise the amount of revenue that's required for a balanced package if all you're relying on is closing deductions and loopholes.

YDSTIE: On a related issue, the president warned Republican lawmakers not to play politics with the debt ceiling when it's time to raise it in February, if they don't get what they want out of these budget negotiations. That would be a repeat of the fight that happened in August 2011, which led to a downgrade in the U.S. credit rating.

OBAMA: I will not play that game, because we've got to break that habit before it starts.

YDSTIE: Dave Cote of Honeywell was one of the CEOs meeting with the president. He agrees avoiding another debt ceiling fight is critical. And he said yesterday's meeting with the president was a reminder that government and business have to work together. He says the business community can help politicians see things more clearly.

DAVE COTE: We shouldn't be looking at what's politically feasible. We should be looking at what gets the economy moving again and start getting that job creation that all of us want.

YDSTIE: Cote said the means getting a $4 trillion deficit reduction agreement that includes both added revenue and entitlement reform. He says that's what everyone should be working for.

John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.