By Vicki Needham - 12/23/12 08:00 PM EST
Business leaders are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in talks to head off billions in looming tax hikes and spending cuts they say will harm the nation's economy.
“We're not in a state of panic over last night because it was part of the process,” David French, the chief lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, told The Hill.
But “we're nervous,” he said.
French argues though that while a deal at this point is logistically difficult, reaching an agreement would set a positive tone for the next couple of years when lawmakers will be forced to work together on comprehensive tax and entitlement reform.
Lack of a bipartisan compromise would be the “worst thing that can happen,” he said, as it would spell “two more years of political trench warfare.”
The stark reality of that possibility sunk in after lawmakers left Washington on Friday for the Christmas holidays with neither a broad bipartisan agreement nor a back up plan that could, at the very least, prevent more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to begin in January.
French said all of the sides must come together on a deal.
“House Republicans negotiating with themselves aren't going to resolve this,” French said.
Through most of the month, business leaders sounded an optimistic chorus. And talks between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama did appear to make progress before Boehner moved to his backup plan.
But the latest news has shifted the mood among business leaders.
“There is incredible frustration,” said one source representing the business community who asked not to be identified.
Business owners across the country now feel like the last month has been “virtually wasted” with unnecessary political posturing when they “could have been at the table hammering away” toward an agreement, the source said.
“Our position hasn't changed, we know what businesses want and we're advocating for what they need, which is something that will offer growth.”
The White House and Capitol Hill have served as a virtual carousel for dozens of chief executives who have urged lawmakers and President Obama to craft a broad agreement that includes tax hikes, spending cuts and entitlement reforms.
Collectively, business groups generally have pushed for the sides to agree to a sizeable deficit-reduction package that also prevents tax hikes on most taxpayers. Big and small businesses have sometimes been at odds during the talks, with corporate CEOs offering more support for higher tax rates and small business groups arguing that would hurt their members.
Many hoped the talks could provide a framework for tax reform next year, something that has long been a priority for the corporate world.