CEOs push for tax relief as economy sputters

The nation’s top executives say Congress could boost confidence in the economy by reauthorizing several corporate tax breaks.

In its latest CEO survey, the Business Roundtable found that the economic outlook for top executives was slightly higher in the second quarter of the year. But executives still expect the economy will grow below capacity, and predict there will be less business investment over the next six months. The survey found executives think the economy will grow 2.3 percent in 2014, compared to 2.4 percent in the first quarter survey.

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The CEOs argued the economy would benefit if policymakers found a path forward on legislation dealings with several tax provisions in the so-called “extenders” package.

Over three-quarters of CEOs surveyed by the group, which represents the heads of the nation’s largest companies, said passage of an extenders package would improve the investment climate. Less than one quarter said it would not make a difference, and 0.8 percent said it would make things significantly worse.

In its survey, the group found that while top executives are hopeful for increased sales and hiring over the next six months, they don't expect to be making major capital investments.

And that’s a key indication of underlying concern about the economy, according to Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T and head of the Roundtable.

“From our view, that’s troubling,” he told reporters. “The business community is not banking on the extender package right now, and that’s what you’re seeing in these surveys.”

The push from the business community comes as the two parties have yet to agree on a path forward for extenders legislation. The House has passed several permanent extensions of particular tax breaks, but Democrats have criticized the GOP measures because of the cost of those breaks is not offset elsewhere in the budget.

The Senate is considering an extenders package that would extend tax provisions for just a few years. But that measure is bogged down in that chamber over a larger debate on floor procedure. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he believes the measure will not be taken up until the lame duck session after the November elections.