Backing Obama, executives lobbying in favor of stimulus

The chief executives in charge of America’s biggest brand-name companies — some with Republican leanings — are personally lobbying for President Obama’s economic stimulus package, a point the White House has been quick to note.

The CEOs’ support of the recovery effort seems to counter charges by GOP lawmakers that the legislation will not create jobs, especially in the private sector. Senior executives and their Washington lobbyists are making it clear on Capitol Hill that certain provisions of the stimulus will allow their companies to hire and invest more here in America, which could provide the necessary booster shot to the darkening economy.

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At times, the executives have grown frustrated attempting to save obscure programs and agencies’ budgets that were slashed in stimulus-package negotiations that took place behind closed doors over the past week.

For example, in a letter to senators last Friday, Craig Barrett, board chairman of tech giant Intel, argued vehemently against planned cuts by centrist lawmakers to the Energy Department’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Addressed to “Sens. Nelson, Snowe, McCain, et al,” Barrett said the added funds for those agencies would lead to high-paying technology jobs.

“To be clear, I am speaking of investments in our knowledge future — students, education and research — not money for my industry or for my company. Is it too much to ask?” Barrett wrote in his letter to lawmakers.

By supporting the stimulus, Barrett, a substantial GOP donor, is squaring off with many of the politicians he backed with campaign contributions, including Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Intel chairman has also contributed to Democrats, such as Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Less selflessly, Intel lobbyists have also explained to lawmakers how various provisions of the recovery effort would specifically benefit the Santa Clara, Calif.-company.

Microprocessor sales for Intel would surge broadly as a result of stimulus measures backing Internet broadband access, electronic medical records, “smart grid” infrastructure and information technology in the nation’s classrooms. The bill would boost America’s employment numbers plus accrue revenue for the company, Intel lobbyists have told lawmakers.

Like Intel, senior executives for Google and Qwest have said that if the stimulus passed, their companies would hire more people based partly on provisions that direct the building-out of broadband access.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini has also been vocal in his support of the recovery package. In a speech before the Economic Club in Washington on Tuesday, Otellini said that government investment in the tech industry can help lead to more innovation and more jobs.

“If we are committed to investing in ideas to improve — not just maintain — what we have and what we know, the United States will do more than just recover from this recession. We will emerge, once again, as a competitive, global powerhouse. This is the essential stimulus plan we need; not one which attempts to shore up the status quo or delay the inevitable changes needed,” Otellini said.

{mospagebreak}Otellini also promised to invest $7 billion in factories in Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon. Announcements like that have buoyed the White House in its sales pitch for the stimulus over the past week.

For example, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in remarks at the House Democratic Caucus retreat in Williamsburg, Va., last week, pledged to invest $9 billion in research and development as well as in worker education and training.

Ballmer followed up Wednesday with a letter to lawmakers, urging them to support the stimulus’s conference agreement and offering Microsoft’s full backing.

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“We believe the final conference agreement will help families during this difficult economic time, create and save jobs, and begin to put our country back on the path toward long-term economic growth,” Ballmer wrote. “Investing in people and our nation’s science and technology infrastructure will put us on the right path for the future.”

The administration has sought to gain the support of several of America’s CEOs as it has campaigned for the stimulus package. Over two weeks ago, President Obama met with more than a dozen senior executives at the White House, including CEOs from Corning, Eastman Kodak and Honeywell.

In Springfield, Va., on Wednesday, Obama revealed he has been in private discussions with company executives, too. The president said that Jim Owens, CEO of Caterpillar, told him that, if the stimulus passed, the company would rehire some of the roughly 20,000 people it had recently laid off.

“Because what’s at stake here are not abstract numbers of abstract concepts — we’re talking about real families that we can help and real jobs that we can save,” Obama said.

Owens would not be a natural Democratic supporter. He has only contributed to Republican candidates, including Jack Ryan, once a potential GOP opponent for Obama in his 2004 Illinois Senate race. He has also given money to the two most recent congressmen to represent the district where Caterpillar has its headquarters: freshman Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), now Obama’s Transportation secretary.

The company, too, has backed the GOP more often than not. During the last election cycle, Caterpillar’s political action committee gave almost three-quarters of its funds, more than $460,000, to Republicans, according to CQMoneyLine.

As a company, Caterpillar has lobbied heavily for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which Obama did not support during his presidential campaign. The manufacturer is also concerned about the Buy American provisions in the stimulus.

Nevertheless, Owens has a line to Obama. The Caterpillar CEO is a member of the president’s Economic Advisory Board. Also, Obama continued his stumping for the stimulus Thursday at a Caterpillar manufacturing plant in East Peoria, Ill.