Jobs dispute escalating between business and the White House

Big business and the White House escalated their dispute Wednesday over whether the administration’s economic policies are stifling job growth – or spurring it.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce staged a jobs forum to highlight the ways it says Democrats have “neglected America’s No. 1 priority” — creating jobs — in favor of government spending and regulation that hurts an already struggling economy.

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“Instead of continuing their partnership with the business community and embracing proven ideas for job creation, they attacked and demonized key industries,” said Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president and CEO.

“They embarked on a course of rapid government expansion, major tax increases and suffocating regulations — going well beyond what had to be done to keep the economy out of a depression.”

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, in a written response, said they were surprised and disappointed by the rhetoric from the business community.

“While we may not agree on every single issue, we should always remember that there is much that we agree on and that we are all working toward the same goal of putting Americans back to work and getting our economy back on track,” they wrote. “The stakes are far too high for us for to be working against one another.”

Emanuel and Jarrett recalled that the trade group supported the $862 billion stimulus package in early 2009, even when only three Republicans in Congress voted for it. Administration economists released a report Wednesday showing that the tax cut and spending package had saved or created about 3 million jobs.

In the letter, they also mentioned President Obama’s initiative to double U.S. exports in five years and his establishment of the debt commission to help bring down the national deficit.

The Chamber’s broadside comes after weeks of pointed criticism by Republicans and some corporate executives of the Obama administration’s “anti-business” policies.

Both the Chamber and GOP congressional leaders have held up the Democrats’ Wall Street reform package as another round of new regulations that are creating uncertainty for the private sector in the midst of a tepid recovery. They said the same of the healthcare reform law and of energy and climate legislation slated for Senate debate in the coming weeks.

Last week, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt reportedly told a business group in Rome that Obama and business didn’t like each other and that the government and entrepreneurs weren’t “in sync.”

Donohue said Wednesday that he would back the stimulus again, considering it necessary when the U.S. economy was badly struggling. But he said another stimulus isn’t necessary.

The Chamber is now casting its lot with Republicans. Donohue called on Congress to pass a number of measures championed by GOP leaders, including an extension of all the George W. Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, including those for people making more than $200,000. Democrats and the White House have pledged to extend only those cuts affecting people earning less.

Donohue also proposed a cut in the corporate tax rate, deficit reductions through entitlement reforms and spending cuts, approval of free trade agreements and more oil-and-gas drilling.

“Government’s role is to establish the right conditions so that the private sector can invest, compete, create new products and services and put Americans back to work,” Donohue said. “But that’s not happening.”

The Chamber’s attack is more than just rhetoric — it’s gearing up to take on Democrats in the congressional midterms. The business group is planning to spend at least $50 million to go after Democratic policies and help GOP candidates.