Obama taps GE's Immelt in another outreach to business

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 21, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Continuing his outreach to business, President Barack Obama Friday named Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman and chief executive of General Electric, to head a new, high-profile panel that will advise him on ways to help the private sector create jobs.

Immelt will chair a new President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which will replace another group of outside economic advisers led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. The Volcker panel, which was temporary, is set to expire next month.

More than a change of players and titles, the move suggests a shift in the White House's approach as the president switches from a panel and chairman aimed at regulating financial markets to a new group of advisers charged with finding ways to help business.

Obama said it was time for a change. "As we enter a new phase in our recovery," he said, "I have asked the new council to focus its work on finding new ways to encourage the private sector to hire and invest in American competitiveness."

It's the latest in a series of steps to woo business that the president has taken since he led his Democratic Party to sweeping losses in last November's elections, losses that were fueled in part by anti-Democrat ads financed by business groups.

His post-election courting of business has included:

  • A new order to make sure that federal regulators consider how their actions will cost business.
  • Hiring a new chief of staff, William Daley, a Chicago political operative and former JPMorgan executive who's familiar with and popular with CEOs.
  • Hiring Bruce Reed as the new chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden. Reed's a former CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group that unions have criticized as too pro-business and that Obama himself had shunned in the past.
  • A new tax cut for business investment along with an extension of tax reductions for those with the highest incomes.

Like those other steps — all taken since November's elections — this one drew quick, albeit cautious, praise from business.

Thomas J. Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said launching the new panel was a "promising step" toward a new White House focus on creating jobs, boosting growth and helping U.S. businesses compete abroad. He applauded the choice of Immelt, noting his experience in business and international trade.

But Donohue, whose organization pledged to spend $75 million in last year's elections to defeat Democrats, said action had to follow all the recent moves by Obama.

"The ultimate test will not be the administration's words and intentions, but its actions," Donohue said. "A more robust economy and stronger job growth will require regulatory restraint and reform, trade expansion, reducing deficits, reining in spending, strengthening our education system and rebuilding our nation's infrastructure."

Republicans said Obama could have more impact by changing policies rather than advisory councils.

"The Obama administration needs a new economic philosophy much more than it needs another council," said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

"Massive deficit spending, higher taxes and the rapidly expanding regulatory state are all obstacles to prosperity, and President Obama's agenda has increased these barriers by leaps and bounds. . . . If Washington doesn't get out of the way, the private-sector jobs America needs will be a long time coming."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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