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President Barack Obama appears unlikely to find broad backing in the business community for his effort to make upper-income Americans pay higher taxes.
But the president has little to lose when he continues his courtship of corporate leaders during a White House meeting Wednesday.
Although major business groups remain allied with Republicans and firmly opposed to tax rate increases sought by the president, the administration can hope to pick up support from a few individual executives for what Obama calls a “balanced approach” to reducing the budget deficit and heading off the sweeping tax increases and automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin Jan. 1.
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. The session is not likely to yield any concrete agreement or explicit endorsement of the White House’s plan to allow tax rates to increase for couples making at least $250,000 a year.
Obama held a similar meeting Tuesday with leaders of labor unions and liberal advocacy groups. On Friday, the president will have his first sit-down with congressional leaders to begin negotiations on preventing expiration of all of the George W. Bush administration tax cuts and implementation of the across-the-board spending cuts mandated by last summer’s debt ceiling law.
Any crack in business opposition to Obama’s tax plan could help the White House considerably. “It’s very wise. It’s a good move to try to be as inclusive as possible, to try to create a dialogue,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist who served as a top aide to former House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. He added that after a rocky relationship over the past four years, “The president has a real opportunity to create a fresh start with the business community.”
If Obama is fortunate, influential business leaders he has worked with in the past, including Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally and General Electric Co.’s Jeffrey R. Immelt, will give him some cover on the tax issue.
Business associations, however, strongly oppose the president’s push to raise tax rates and are far closer to the position of congressional Republicans. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and National Association of Manufacturers are urging Congress to continue current tax policy well past the new year and then turn to overhauling the tax code and entitlement programs to stabilize the growing national debt.