Business counting down to Obama's exit

Business counting down to Obama's exit
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The business community is counting the days until President Obama leaves office.

With Republicans in control of the House and Senate next year, industry groups believe they’ll have more support for issues topping their agendas.

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But the often-chilly relationship with the Obama White House has not warmed in the administration’s waning years. Businesses say they remain concerned about what regulations the administration might impose within the next two years and the limits on what a GOP-controlled Congress can do to stop them.

“I think we’re extremely concerned with the president’s executive power,” International Franchise Association spokesman Matthew Haller said, later adding: “2017 seems like a long way off.”

The IFA has been pressing the administration to change the designation of a full-time employee under ObamaCare from someone who works a 30-hour workweek to someone who works 40 hours a week, and to link the designation of large employers to a number higher than 50 full-time employees.

But bipartisan support for the proposals might not be enough. The president has already threatened to veto the Save American Workers Act that would change the workweek, which was passed by the House in April.

Other battles are waging on environmental regulations, tax reform and additional provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The president has made no bones about using executive authority to pursue his policy goals in lieu of congressional action.

“If you just look at what he’s done with immigration ... it seems to be the maneuvering of this White House to do things Congress isn’t interested in doing and the American people aren’t interested in supporting,” Haller said.

Obama has repeatedly touted his policies as helping business, from efforts to support the manufacturing sector to pay equality measures that he contends will strengthen the U.S. workforce.

On Wednesday, he sought to reassure corporate leaders that he is looking out for their interests.

Speaking to the Business Roundtable, Obama called for finding ways to “accelerate, rather than impede” economic growth, but blamed the inability to solve infrastructure and tax issues on “politics and ideological gridlock.”

Businesses, however, say the executive branch deserves much of the blame.

“Our members feel, when it comes to the administration, that they have been talked at and not listened to,” said Dan Danner, president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

Most recently with the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, designed to keep pollution out of the nation’s waterways, the NFIB said the agency failed to consult small businesses in the rule-making process, a requirement of the Small Business Regulatory Review Act.

The nation’s biggest business lobby group fired its latest salvo against the administration’s regulation this week, announcing a new push for legislation meant to tamp down on agency rule-making authority.

In a speech, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue criticized the administration for hindering economic growth in passing multibillion-dollar regulations like the Environmental Protection Agency’s new ozone rule.

“Thomas Jefferson said, ‘When government fears the people, there is liberty,’ ” Donohue said. “ ‘When people fear the government there is tyranny.’ It’s time to set our regulatory system straight and on a better path.”

While the White House wouldn’t comment specifically on what it perceives the president’s relationship with business to be, a staffer argued that Obama’s policies have succeeded in strengthening the economy in the last six years, “and stronger growth is good for business.”

In meeting with business leaders, Obama appeared to offer an olive branch in the form of general support for a proposal in Congress to temporarily renew dozens of tax credits.

But in terms of a broad tax reform deal, Obama made clear he’s not willing to structure a tax deal that blows up the deficit or alternatively shifts taxes from businesses to the middle class and working families.

Some business groups have expressed frustration that tax reform conversations as of late seem to only consider corporate taxes.

“My view is that if we start with the corporate side, it’s a more discrete problem, fewer variables, fewer moving parts,” Obama said. “We may be able to get that done, and then we can potentially have a conversation about broader tax reform.”

On other hot-button business issues like trade, infrastructure and immigration, Obama said the challenges have not come from any unwillingness to engage or act from his administration.

“It’s been the complications of Congress and the challenges they have in their respective caucuses,” he said.

But within corporate circles, a perception remains that the relationship between Obama and businesses remains as rocky as ever, business representatives said.

At its annual conference earlier this month, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers polled some 300 attendees and found that 57 percent of respondents rated the president’s relationship with the business community as “very poor.” Just 1 percent of respondents rated the relationship “very good.”

The National Association of Wholesale-Distributors said battling regulations that the group opposes in court has become standard protocol during the Obama administration.

Jade West, the NAW’s senior vice president of government relations, said Obama’s recent push for Internet neutrality regulations from the Federal Communications Commission is just more evidence of the lack of interest there is to find common ground.

West and others in the business community say they have little choice but to look to 2017 for a more business-friendly president.

“It’s just a waiting game to see what changes in the presidential election of 2016,” she said. “I don’t think any one of us are looking forward to two more years of confrontation and stalemate.”