Obama courts top US executives, vows cooperation

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President Barack Obama warmly courted top US executives, pledging to scrap regulation and lay the groundwork for innovation in a bid to "make America the best place on Earth to do business."

But he also stressed the "mutual responsibilities" of business and government in his speech to the US Chamber of Commerce, saying corporate profits needed to lift the standard of living for American workers, not just meet the corporate bottom line and fatten the pockets of executives.

Obama and the chamber -- the most powerful business lobby in Washington -- have been at odds over economic policy in his first two years in the White House.

Their differences have narrowed in the months since Republicans handed Obama's Democrats a major defeat in November elections, and Obama's address Monday suggested he was keen to mend fences.

"I'm here today because I am convinced... that we can and we must work together," Obama told hundreds of business leaders at chamber headquarters, just a stone's throw from the White House.

"Whatever differences we may have, I know that all of us share a deep abiding belief in this country -- a belief in our people, and the principles that have made America's economy the envy of the world."

"I get it," Obama said of the challenges businesses face to cut costs and maintain profit margins amid ever-present pressure from shareholders in the aftermath of the worst recession in generations.

"But as we work with you to make America a better place to do business, ask yourselves what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do to hire more American workers, what you can do to support the American economy, and to invest in this nation."

The president has sought to reach out to the business sector since a wave of anti-Washington anger swept Republicans to power in the House of Representatives.

He has reversed his position on the Bush-era tax cuts and placed business-savvy staff in key positions.

Last year, the chamber opposed Obama's health care reform, his drive to change Wall Street practices and other legislative initiatives. The group also gave millions of dollars in campaign donations to Republican candidates.

But the chamber has offered qualified backing for key legislative fights ahead, and said it would support Obama-backed moves to secure trade deals and reduce the soaring deficit.

The administration would upgrade transport and communications networks and "knock down barriers that make it harder for you to compete, from the tax code to the regulatory system," Obama said.

"We need to make America the best place on earth to do business."

Chamber of Commerce chief Thomas Donohue said he thought Obama's speech marked a "good change in tone. I had a private conversation with him which encourages me that we'll continue to communicate."

Donohue told FOX News Channel's Special Report that "we need to work with him, and he needs to work with the business community."

"I think the president raises a great challenge, but we have to look at it in the context that 95 percent of people in the world that we can sell something to live somewhere else," he added.

"This is a two part deal. Do it at home, sell it abroad."

US firms have reported soaring profits over the past year, but there has been no accompanying rush to hire new workers, and the jobless rate, while dipping recently, was still high at nine percent.

Obama said companies should unleash some of their reserves in order to create a "virtuous cycle" of increased sales, greater demand and higher profits to revive the economy.

But he was quick to stress that reforming the tax code and boosting exports should not just "translate into greater profits and bonuses for those at the top."

The speech was met with disappointment by some liberals, including the group Public Citizen, which blasted Obama's "mortifying" capitulation to big business.

And House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, responded to the speech by rejecting Obama's "job-destroying policies," including imposition of "hidden taxes on employers and small businesses."

"It's clear from his policies that President Obama isn't as interested in winning the future as he is in rigging it for big government," Boehner said.

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