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Obama to Chamber: ‘We Can and Must Work Together’

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President Barack Obama continued his campaign to win over the business community with a speech at the U.S. Chamber of the Commerce on Monday — a move that didn’t appear to earn much support from House Republican leaders.

“I’m here in the interest of being more neighborly. Maybe we would have gotten off on a better foot if I had brought over a fruitcake when we first moved in,” Obama joked during his remarks, referring to the fact that the White House and the chamber are across the street from each other.

The president has been making overtures to big business in the weeks since he began his foray into divided government. Both he and Vice President Joseph Biden hired former Wall Street executives as their new chiefs of staff, and Obama highlighted corporate tax reform and free-trade agreements — key issues for the business community — as priorities in his State of the Union address. Up until now, Obama has received a chilly reception from the business community amid criticisms that he has imposed too much regulation on them.

“We’ve had some pretty strong disagreements,” the president told the group. “But I’m here today because I’m convinced we can and must work together. Whatever differences we may have, I know that all of us share a deep belief in this country, our people and the principles that have made America’s economy the envy of the world.”

Obama said the government is already helping businesses by laying “the foundation for you to grow and innovate” through upgraded transportation and communications networks that will help to “move goods and information more quickly and cheaply.”

But in a Kennedy-esque moment, he said businesses also have a role to play, and that role is to “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 said that while he will work to get rid of burdensome regulation, the business community has to accept that some safeguards are necessary to protect people from harm or exploitation.

“Not every regulation is bad. Not every regulation is burdensome on business. A lot of the regulations that are out there are things that all of us welcome in our lives,” he said.

Obama’s speech didn’t appear to make any inroads with House GOP leaders, who accused the president of being all talk while continuing to push sweeping initiatives such as health care reform that impose more mandates on businesses.

“It’s clear from his policies that President Obama isn’t as interested in winning the future as he is in rigging it for big government,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “Far from changing tack, his administration is taking steps to protect the job-crushing regulations in its health care and permanent bailout laws, while plotting a backdoor national energy tax.”

Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) said Obama and his allies need to “end their love affair with big government” if they want to be taken seriously about helping the economy. “Their words and promises do not shield American families and entrepreneurs from the mandates, regulations and economic tinkering handed down from this administration and Democrats in Congress,” he said.

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