Obama to Business Community: ‘Ask Yourselves What You Can Do for America’

By Fred Lucas | February 8, 2011 | 10:24 AM EST

President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama reached out to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Monday, pledging to ease regulations on business and push federal spending on infrastructure and education to promote growth.

But the president also made it clear he expects the business community to invest in growing the U.S. workforce.

“Now, I understand the challenges you face,” Obama said. “I understand that you’re under incredible pressure to cut costs and keep your margins up. I understand the significance of your obligations to your shareholders. I get it. But as we work with you to make America a better place to do business, ask yourselves what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy, and to invest in this nation.”

Obama and the nation’s largest business lobby were at odds through most of 2010, dueling over health care legislation in particular. During the 2010 election season, Obama administration officials -- without evidence --accused the chamber accepting foreign campaign contributions.

On Monday, Obama addressed the strained relations, saying he had come to the Chamber “in the interest of being more neighborly.” The Chamber is located a block away from the White House, on the other side of Lafayette Park. “Maybe we would have gotten off on a better foot if I had brought over a fruitcake when we first moved in,” he joked.

The Chamber did back another of Obama’s legislative accomplishments -- the $787-billion stimulus act in 2009.

Obama on Monday also talked about the need to cut spending, and he pledged a leaner, more efficient government.

“In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America,” Obama said. “And we want to start with the twelve different agencies that deal with America’s exports. If we hope to help our businesses sell more goods around the world, we should ensure we are all pulling in the same direction.”

Obama advocates cutting the corporate tax rate and doing away with various tax loopholes. He also has ordered federal agencies to do a large-scale review of all federal regulations that are outdated or unnecessary.

The regulatory review order came after House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked businesses to let him know which regulations are too burdensome.

“The president has recognized the value in examining the regulatory barriers impeding private sector job creation,” Issa said. He added that his request to the business community “should complement” Obama’s regulatory review – leading to an “expansive discussion about what the best way forward is to stimulate our economy.”

The president also defended the need for some government regulations, pointing out that business historically have adjusted despite opposition and rhetoric from opponents.

“Few of us would want to live in a society without the rules that keep our air and water clean; that give consumers the confidence to do everything from investing in financial markets to buying groceries,” Obama said. “Yet when standards like these have been proposed, opponents have often warned that they would be an assault on business and free enterprise.

“Early drug companies argued that the bill creating the FDA would practically destroy the sale of … remedies in the United States. Auto executives predicted that having to install seatbelts would bring the downfall of their industry.”