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Obama Set to Meet Business Leaders

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Obama plans to sit down with a dozen chief executives to hear their ideas about how the nation can avoid the tax increases and program cutbacks known as the fiscal cliff.

“First, stop sequestration and extend all of the current tax rates and other expiring tax incentives,” Thomas J. Donohue, president and chief executive of the chamber, said in prepared remarks to reporters Tuesday. “Do it for a reasonable period of time to let the recovery pick up some stream — and to give lawmakers the time they need to negotiate a ‘big deal’ to control the debt and put our economy on a path to robust growth.”

Asked about the president’s meeting with business leaders, Donohue said the chamber had not been contacted by the White House, adding, “We’ll see how the meeting goes.”

Dorothy Coleman, NAM’s vice president of tax and domestic economic policy, said she is “guardedly optimistic” that an agreement can be reached during Congress’ post-election session. But she said members of her group are adamant in their opposition to restoration of the 39.6 percent top marginal tax rate that was in place during Democratic President Bill Clinton’s administration.

“I think there’s a deal — I think if both sides are willing — that doesn’t involve increasing rates. We feel very strongly that you need to continue the lower rates for all individuals,” Coleman said.

Leaders in the business lobby have made clear they intend to make their presence and their views on tax issues well known during the next few weeks.

The Business Roundtable launched a campaign Tuesday called “It’s Time to Act” with a series of videos and print, radio and online advertisements featuring chief executives urging an extension of current tax policy before Jan. 1, followed by efforts to reduce the deficit in 2013. At least two executives featured in ads, Ursula Burns of Xerox and David Cote of Honeywell, will meet with Obama on Wednesday.

Cote has also signed on to “Fix the Debt,” a $30 million campaign by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and endorsed by 80 CEOs. That effort seeks a major deficit reduction agreement next year that would lower tax rates but raise revenue by limiting deductions and tax credits.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, signaled last week that Republicans may accept raising additional revenue through limiting deductions and overhauling the tax code.

Having just won re-election and with tax rates set to increase across the board at year’s end unless new legislation is enacted, Obama at the moment has unique leverage with which to negotiate. That’s likely one reason opponents of a rate increase are pushing to extend the debate and the current tax rates into next year. They calculate that any mandate Obama now enjoys for his fiscal policy will fade with time.

“The commitments to bipartisanship, that quickly erodes after a congressional session begins and the real legislating happens,” Bonjean said. “I think you’re going to see the tone begin to change over time.”

Although Obama has been condemned as “anti-business” for his health care and financial regulatory overhauls, business groups have sometimes found the White House to be more of an ally than the tea-party-backed Republicans in Congress. For months, House Republicans balked at reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, a top priority of the business community and the administration, but which some GOP lawmakers called corporate welfare.

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